Reviews by Diane S.

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Purgatory
by Ken Bruen
Purgatory (10/15/2013)
Jack Taylor is one of the most original characters in fiction. He is an ex-guard, a crusty and dark and cynical individual, a good friend to a few, bad news to those who cross him or the ones he loves, he loves to read and a friend keeps his apartment stocked with novels. Though he once had every bad habit known to man, in this novel he has quit drinking his beloved Jameson's, in fact he has quit drinking period, he has quit smoking and other bad habits that threatened to shorten his life. He has quit taking cases, but of course, someone close to him gets him involved. Fate has other plans for him.

Not everyone will like Bruen's staccato style of writing, his witty observations and one-liners, his irreverence but those of us who do hope this author keeps writing these novels for a long time. In fact I liked one of his lines so much I just have to repeat it, Jack Taylor is a recovering Catholic. She laughed, Jesus wept.
The Lowland
by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland (10/2/2013)
Two brothers, born fifteen months apart in Calcutta, India, inseparable until the 1960's when they are both in their mid twenties and their interests begin to diverge. Udayar becomes a follower of Mao's revolutionary politics and joins the Naxalite movement. Which I had to look up on the all knowing wiki. Subhash goes to America to continue his studies.

As I was reading this I felt as if the first half was like an outline, just the bare bones of the characters personalities were being revealed. Much of the political situation was more detailed. In the second half this changed and all the little touches, the observations of place, people and time that Lahiri's prose is noted for, came alive.

This is a story of regret, of mistakes made, how one person, alive and dead could effect so many for so long. It is about being unable to forgive oneself and living a life of penance and atonement. Their is some wonderful prose here, some very visual observations about the price of violence and revolution. At times I did feel that Lahiri was portraying her characters at a remove, an almost emotionless narrative of their lives. By the time I finished this book I realized just how well her technique worked because I felt that I knew them and understood them very well. It was just so gradual that until the end I could not put it together.

If the reader is patient with this novel, I believe many will feel the same way.
The Impersonator: A Mystery
by Mary Miley
The Impersonator (9/25/2013)
Leah/Jesse is such a fun, quirky and lovable character. First person narrations are sometimes hard to pull off but it works so well in this story. Just pure fun, a romp through the twenties and vaudeville. We even get to meet a young Jack Benny, and a few others who at the time had top acts on the circuit. Dressing rooms, theaters, the life of those in the business, and one has to admire their grit because there were so many acts it was hard to stay on top. Good story, fast moving, some wonderful characters, this one is a delight.
Henry and Rachel
by Laurel Saville
Henry and Rachel (9/20/2013)
I feel that books that are written based on an actual person, in this case the author's family members, are more appealing to me because they are based on reality. In this case I felt the strongest character was the island of Jamaica, the history and the descriptions were wonderful. When I first started reading this book, I enjoyed reading about their lives, together or not, and the children of course. A book told in alternating chapters, Henry's and than Rachel's because a bit tedious so in the second half of the book when additional character's viewpoints were told, it was a very welcome relief. I can't say that I particularly liked any of these characters, though at times I felt sorry and did perhaps understand Rachel and the way she acted much better, than the others.

While I was reading this book, I liked it but when I put it down it never compelled me to pick it back up. So this was a good story, not a very exciting one, though with all the discoveries made about their characters it could have been. Maybe it was meant to follow the languid day to day existence in the Jamaican heat.
The Returned
by Jason Mott
The Returned (9/19/2013)
This book is being heavily promoted and is now in production for a television series. It is a book that raises so many questions. The dead start appearing, (not a vampire or Zombie in the bunch, thank you Jason Mott) an eight year old boy who drowned at the age of eight, fifty years before is delivered to his now 70 yrs. old parents. The dead are the same age as when they died, at first this is looked on as miraculous but this soon begins to change.

It raised many questions for me. I had been very close to my grandparents, if they appeared on my doorstep how would I react. That is the main premise of the book, because of course as more and more of these dead people keep returning the ugly comes out in many people. The government and the military get involved, had to know that was coming. Are these people miraculous or unnatural, demons in fact? Why when we fear something that is different most they be either or, is there not a middle ground? The town of Arcadia in North Carolina is turned in to a battle ground, but this is happening everywhere in the world.

I think the thing I liked best about this book is that the ending is not fed to us, it is not absolute but maybe left up to the reader based on what side of this happening they would have fallen. Quite different, quite good.
Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent
Burial rites (9/4/2013)
It is very hard to describe the atmosphere of this novel. The coldness, the loneliness, the lives hard lived permeate this book, as the story of Agnes is told. Well researched accounting of the last woman beheaded and the last case of capitol punishment in Iceland in 1830. This narrative follows the last months of her life and is hauntingly and movingly told.

The district is hard put to harbor a criminal awaiting death and so Agnes is put in the care of a good Christian farm family. Her only provision is that of a young priest who job is to reconcile her to her fate and her God. He does, however, do more as it is to him that she tells her story. This is a quiet, book, a slow book, but a poignant one as we learn of Agnes's life.

This book and the way it was written made it seem as if the events were happening now and Agnes was currently in the news, or someone I knew.This story affected me the way it did because it seemed so very real. But do not expect alot of action, you won't get it and do not expect a fast paced novel, this is not that wither. It is a slow unraveling of a woman's life that leads to death. I look forward to what this author will write next and admire the amount of research she put into this book to make it as historically accurate as possible.
Claire of the Sea Light
by Edwidge Danticat
Claire of the Sea Light (8/29/2013)
Love the title of this book and the cover, even though I read it on my kindle I can see the cover on this site. This book was like a circular maze, where the prize is in the middle and you just follow in circular movements. It starts with a young seven yr. old Claire going missing from her village and home. This is not a linear book so after this we learn about the villagers that make up this town called Ville Rose. At one point when they switched to a new story I thought to myself, what does this have to do with anything, but shortly thereafter it all came clear.

We do not learn very much about the political situation in Haiti, as this is a character driven novel, with the town being one of the characters. We only learn about things in a wider view when they effect either a villager or the town, such as the gangs that prevailed at the time. Claire's mother died when she was born, in Haiti this made Claire a revenant. The characterizations are fantastically presented, one learns many things that happened before Claire was born, things that would effect Claire later. We learn about Claire's mother just from the viewpoints of the other characters. The language of the novel sometime reads almost like poetry, so many of the phrases are just beautiful, like those describing the ocean.

There are no great action scenes, this is a quiet but poignant novel. I have never read Danticat before, but I am anxious now to do so.
Just What Kind of Mother Are You?
by Paula Daly
What Kind of Mother are you (8/20/2013)
So many of us are overloaded, trying to get to our jobs, taking care of the house, husband, children and pets, just trying to make it through the day. It is so easy to identify with the character of Lisa, a woman trying to do it all and who occasionally slips up. In her case it causes a terrible incident, that she is blamed for not only by herself but by others in the town. I could really see this happening and so this novel seemed very realistic.

There are a few twists and turns that I didn't see coming. This was good, quickly paced suspense novel with an interesting plot and very fascinating characters.
Night Film
by Marisha Pessl
Night Film (8/19/2013)
This book is so many different things, but all of them are exceedingly well done and well thought out. I usually do not read books that are over 400 pgs. because by then I am bored with the book and wishing it was over. Yet, I now may have to revise because I have just read two books over the magical number of pages and have rated them both a five.

Night Film has the requisite number of chills and thrills along with a noir tone and three amazing characters. Usually when reading this kind of book I do not get emotional but near the end of this book, I so loved the threesome, I did get a little teary eyed when they all thought the case was over.

Scot McGrath, had been burned and disgraced by Cordova years before, a disgraced journalist has few options. Cordova is a mythical film maker, shrouded in mystery, rumors of black magic and missing children. People who work on his films either disappear or are never the same. This book is a journey into a dark subculture, a noir cult an obsessive quest by those who have been seduced by the Cordova lure. His daughter Ashley's supposed suicide brings Scott back into his obsession with this family.

A complete package, original plot filled with police reports, newspaper headings, illicit websites, leading to an amazing look at those who are different than us.

book:The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems|118389is the Cordova family manta. So of course I had to read that while I was reading this book. I still had some questions at the end of the book, but did like that the author did not stuff some phony ending down the readers throat but trusted them enough to reason their own way through. I also think that the solution, the finding of the truth, the quest for answers, was in the end not the main reason, but it was the journey itself that was the reason for the story.

Wonderfully entertaining. I found it was best to go slowly and totally immerse myself in the story.
The Panopticon: A Novel
by Jenni Fagan
The Panopticon (8/19/2013)
Anais is an amazing character, she is now 15 and has been shuffled from one foster home to another, she arrives at the Panopticon because of her suspected part in the severe injury done to a policewoman. At the prison she will meet other youth, just like herself. There is plenty of swearing, drug use and sex, so I can see that this book will not be for everyone. Yet Anais, whose narrative voice takes some getting used to, and her friends have a story that need to be told.

So many of our youth are throwaway kids, and it is a sad state of affairs, in this country as well as others. At times the prevalent drug use serves to slow the narrative down, they are so detailed. This is a maddening book, in that some of the people involved in hers and the others cases are so unsympathetic or maybe just burned out. Maybe seeing too just much makes them less compassionate.

Interesting concept for a book, and I loved the grittiness and toughness of Anais, yet she can still makes friends and despite all she has gone through, can still be compassionate. Would have rated this higher, but I had a problem with the ending. I thought too many strands of the story were left dangling, unexplained. That was frustrating, but I am still very glad to have met Anais.
Visitation Street
by Ivy Pochoda
Visitation Street (7/14/2013)
This book was chosen by Dennis Lehane to be published under his imprint and after reading this I can certainly see why. The Red Hook area in Brooklyn, an area that contains middle class families, pushing against the tenements, a diverse grouping of people that have made some wonderful characters. For some reason this book has really resonated with me, I find myself thinking about it more and more. It is a book that has many different layers, there is much going on above and below the surface.

Two young girls, who have been friends for a long time, are bored and so they decide to take a plastic inflatable raft onto the East River. One girl is found, early the next morning half drowned, but the other is not found, leading everyone to speculate on what happened. The girl who is found claims she does not remember anything.

The big story though is not the missing girl, so much as what her disappearance causes others in the neighborhood to do and act. Layer by layer different people, have their lives exposed, hopes and dreams, restitution and punishment. It is the ghosts that are in our midst, those alive that we do not notice, ghosts that inhabit places we overlook, the ghosts of guilt and the fear of acceptance. Of course, there are real ghosts as well, those who have lived, that do not want to leave. It is about being instead of looking for a way out and appreciating what we have. Amazing book. I hope others think so too.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler
We are all completely besides ourselves (7/14/2013)
This was a very different type of novel for this author, a novel that was not easy to write because at any time it could have easily crossed over into the absurd and it did not. It was humorous at times but always at the core there was an element of seriousness.

This is a story that covers many complex issues, 1970's was a time of experimental animal psychology which of course led to many animal abuses and stories, that at times are very difficult to read. It is really too bad that in the book's synopsis it gives away so much because it was not until the second part of the book that the reader is made aware of exactly who this family was comprised of, a feat I found amazing. So this can be a condemnation of the animal experiments, a warning to us perhaps about overreaching, and at times it almost bordered on the preachy, but just when I thought that the author would pull back.

This is also a coming of age story. Rosemary now a young adult looking back at her childhood and childhood self, a story about the reliability of memory. Does one remember the event or just the retelling of the event? Also family, what does it mean to be a family and exactly what do we owe other family members?

Anyway one wants to read this, it is well done, interesting, and animal lovers will surely be appalled but maybe it is something we all need to think about. How much do we allow in the progress of the sciences?
The Other Typist: A Novel
by Suzanne Rindell
The Other Typist (7/7/2013)
I am not quite sure why but I seem to have read a few novels lately that have a naive young woman and another manipulative one. This one is very well written, a psychological tour de force, with an unreliable narrator and different revelations that keep you guessing. It is hard to tell for much of the book, how much of the truth is being told. Odalie is a prime piece of work, but although some things are not as they appear, some are and it is very hard to tell which is which and what is what. So if you like psychologically twist novels, this is one which begs the question, is evil contagious?
To the Moon and Timbuktu: A Trek through the Heart of Africa
by Nina Sovich
To the Moon and Timbuktu (7/1/2013)
I really enjoyed reading about her travels, all the different cultures and her journey both internal and outward. I do think her writing strength is when she is describes the people she meets of the dialogue between herself and others. I did find the journey itself a bit self indulgent, not to the extent of Eat, Pray, Love which I am sure this book is being compared to. I like that she went to places one generally does not get to learn about and I have to give her credit because I do not believe anyone could get me to eat a sheep's eye sandwich.
The Light in the Ruins
by Chris Bohjalian
the light in the ruins (7/1/2013)
Set in the early 1940's and alternating in the 1950's, this is about the Rosatis, a wealthy family with Etruscan paintings in a hidden spot in their groves, become tangled up in Hitler's crazy art scheme and war itself. Living in Florence they felt they were safe until they were not. This time period rotates between that time and the middle 1950's where a body of one of the family is found murdered.

This book did not grab me like so many others of his have. The connections seemed forced, the coincidences somewhat unbelievable and the musing of the killer I did not like at all. It is well written, really all his books are, and I did love reading about Florence, the history of the family and the times, but for me it never flowed seamlessly.
Dream with Little Angels
by Michael Hiebert
Dream with Little Angels (6/24/2013)
A small southern town in Alabama in the fifties, a town still reeling from the loss and death of a child twelve years ago, is the setting for this novel. It is being compared with "To Kill a Mockingbird" which I have read but so long ago I do not feel comfortable commenting on the comparison. Abe and Dewey are two twelve year olds, curious and nosy enough to question and have theories about everything. When two more girls go missing, one black and one white, Abe question why the all white church is only praying for the white girl. His mother, who is a police officer, tries to teach him about racism and many other things.

Suspense is certainly present, as is the slow languid pace of a southern storytelling novel. The prose, especially the dialogue is a delight as are the conversations between Abe, his mother, his friend Dewey and his sister, who is trying to grow up to fast at fourteen and his uncle. I enjoyed this novel and look forward to many more from this author. Abe and Dewey are a hoot, as a friend of mine used to say.
Until She Comes Home
by Lori Roy
When she comes home (6/16/2013)
Alder Street in Detroit is your typical middle class street of the 1950's. The factory in town is the main employer and the women wait for their men to come home after a hard day at work, looking their best and ready to put food on the table. Things are changing, however, some colored have moved into the rooming house at the edge of the town and a colored woman has been murdered and fear begins to mount in the neighborhood. When a white woman goes missing, a woman who is mentally challenged, the town gears up and starts searching. As the search continues the cracks begin appearing in the everyday lives on the street. In the nineteen fifties there was the attitude that what went on in ones house stayed there. So it is on this street, but as the cracks widen the secrets are exposed.

I loved this author's Bent Road and I loved this one as well. The tension and fear permeates the pages and at one point I actually had goosebumps down my arm. It is really hard to tell from the beginning exactly where this novel is going to go. There is a mystery involved and there are many secrets to be found. All the characters are so well drawn that one can imagine living on this block. One of my favorite new authors for sure.
The Fever Tree
by Jennifer McVeigh
Fever Tree (6/12/2013)
Set in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign, this is the story of Francis a young woman ill equipped to handle the circumstances in which she finds herself. I actually found this part of the story rather cliched, and although I had some sympathy for her I found the decisions she made irritating. The historical aspects of this novel I loved knowing so little about this before I started reading. South Africa in its Colonial period, the diamond mines, Kimberly and Cape Town, the Boers and the small pox epidemic that threatened the diamond mines. Francis does redeem herself in my eyes by the end of the book, and I found the ending to be extremely well done.
TransAtlantic: A Novel
by Colum McCann
Transatlantic (6/12/2013)
Trite but true, all good things must come to an end. I so wanted to keep reading the wonderful prose, the settings that let one think they are part of the story, and the wonderful characters that this novel contains. McCann has the knack of illuminating the everyday things of a person's life, hidden pride, glowing praise, love for country family and children. Everyday items, inconsequential things assume a meaning that often in apparent only in hindsight. Taking real historical characters and mixing them with characters of his own invention, and making the story realistic takes a very great talent. Covering the pure amount of history in a little more than 250 pgs. fills one with wonder. It is very important to pay attention to the prologue, also the small events that keep reappearing in different places. The first part of the book is not linear, the second part covers some wonderfully strong woman characters, and like a master weaver he threads them throughout history and combines them to make a cohesive and finished piece. It is also a homage to Ireland, their fight and quest for freedom, intermingled with America and slavery. This is a book that contain so many wonderful quotes one could quote indefinitely, but this is one of my favorites and a good way to end this review. "There isn't a story in the world that isn't in part at least, addressed to the past. And so it goes.
The Silver Star
by Jeannette Walls
Silver Star (6/9/2013)
If ever an author is able to write a wonderfully poignant novel about two young girls and an unstable mother, Wallis is the one. She has a such a fluent way of storytelling and a compassionate treatment of her characters. Bean is twelve, her sister fifteen and though it is usually her older sister who takes care of her, circumstances will later dictate that it is Bean who will become the fighter. Bean has a big mouth, she believe in justice and she does not believe in letting things go. She reminds me so much of myself at that age. Unfortunately for many of us family or life circumstances make one grow up much faster than their chronological age can show. Bean is our narrator and I do not believe she is an unreliable one. Although they grew up faster as far as responsibility, the girls are still naive in many things to do with the world.

Family, and family loyalty are also themes. The pros and cons of living in a small town. Segregation and the repercussions of schools being forced to segregate. I also liked the almost tender way Wallis treats the mental illness of their mother, who does manage to hold it together long enough when her daughter really needed her. Bean wormed her way into my heart, just as a young Jeanette did in her memoir, "Glass Castle." She understands young girls and I hope she writes many more stories such a this one. She really gets it. ARC from Publisher.

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