Reviews by Diane S.

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Big Brother
by Lionel Shriver
Big Brother (6/7/2013)
I was a little disappointed in this book. I know that the author lost her brother due to weight issues and this book is definitely about us and our weird relationship with food. It was told in the first person, which is always a bit tricky, but this allowed the narrator and chance to. I almost felt lectured, on all and sundry having to do with weight and food. Also the narrator's father in the book had been a TV movie star back in the day and we are treated to further diatribes on this. The main story was okay, family members and what we owe them, how to keep our own family content while dealing with a very large brother who is a house guest, but once again how this is resolved seemed a bit unbelievable. There are some good parts here and there about what food means to different people and how often food is used as a weapon or a crutch, but for me this wasn't enough. I also did not really like any of the characters with the exception of Cody, the young girl who is kind and tries to keep everyone together. Other readers may find what I did not interesting but for me, I just expected more.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder
by Eli Brown
Cinnamon and gunpowder (6/3/2013)
This extremely inventive novel takes place in 1819 on the high seas, when Owen Wedgewood, chef to Lord Ramsey, is kidnapped by the notorious pirate Hannah Mabbot. After killing Lord Ramsey, who was at dinner, Mabbot eats some of the food on the table and falls in love with the cooking skills of Wedgewood. It is his narration we follow and a well written one it is, in short Wedgewood is a wordsmith, his prose is a wonder. Mabbot promises not to kill him if he makes her a sumptuous dinner every Sunday. This is a little hard to do as the provisions on a pirates ship are not exactly meant for the gourmand.

So what follows is a grand adventure, yes there is killing, this is a pirate ship after all but there is a purpose and reason behind Mabbot's sailing of the seas. As Wedgewood cooks for her, and the details of these dinners are amazing, they talk and learn things that leads them to a tentative trust. This is such a book of contrasts, we have a pirate ship with the regular salty characters of lore contrasted with Wedgewood and his impeccable speech and dry wit. We have rats and bugs in the flour and other disgusting tales of food goods and then once again there is Wedgewood cooking sumptuous food that he manages to get food for. I also love that the pirate is a woman and one I was willing to follow from the English Coast through the Sunda strait to China.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra
A constellation of Vital Phenomena (5/30/2013)
When I looked at the author's photo at the back of the book he looked to me to be about sixteen yrs. old, although a goodreads friend of mine assured me he was twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Even so I am jealous that someone this young could write such a fantastic first novel.

In the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been many changes. One of the hardest hit areas has been Chechnya and it is here that this story takes place, midst the bombed out streets, the rubble and empty buildings, the black markets, the gun runners and the informers. Everyone is just trying to stay alive while others are trying to get out. It is a country that is up for grabs and it is not safe for anyone. It is about two sisters, one who goes to school in London and the other who stays and when she does get out it is not the way she planned. There are horrors, limbs being cut off, finger legs, many things difficult to read and yet there is humor to and hope. That the one sister will find the other, that the little girl, and you will fall in love with her, will live and prosper. The one thing Marra does, is take places or peripheral characters and tell you how it will look or where they will be years from now.

It is about the connectedness between people, about the vagaries of fate and about survival whatever it takes. It is about the way he treats all his characters with compassion. Quite simply I love the way he writes. I bet you he still gets carded though.
The Daughters of Mars
by Thomas Keneally
Daughters of Mars (5/29/2013)
I love historical fiction and I really admired Schindler's list. This is an epic novel that seemed to go on and on. Loved the historical facts, loved the two sisters and the closeness they at times shared. So why didn't I love this novel? There is a fine line, between adding details to keep the reader interested in the story and adding details in such a quantity that it overwhelms the reader. That is what I felt happened in this story. Every time I felt myself melding into the story it would go wandering off on some detail or tidbit that would interrupt the narrative flow. The lack of punctuation did not bother me half as much as the endless details. Yet, I cannot deny the amount of research that went into this novel. Just wish I could have enjoyed it more.
If You Find Me
by Emily Murdoch
If you find me (5/25/2013)
This debut novel, written for the young adult genre, is a very compelling and poignant novel. The heroine is a very strong but bruised, physically and mentally, character who is not a vampire or shape-shifter, or a fallen angel. In fact, that it is not, is another reason I found this novel refreshing. That is not to say that horrible things do not happen, although they are told in flashbacks and memories, but it also shows that things can work out. That a path can be changed, and for the good. That a family can be made up of many different parts and still work. Look forward to seeing where Murdoch goes next with her fiction as this was a very good first outing.
The Shelter Cycle
by Peter Rock
The Shelter Cycle (5/13/2013)
I had not previously heard of the Church Universal and Triumphant, but I have heard of their leader who was Elizabeth Clare Prophet. They were a church in the seventies, that believed the world would end in the spring of 1990. In anticipation they built huge underground shelters in Montana, with enough supplies for seven years. Of course the world did not end so what happened to the people of this church, where did their teachings take them from here? This is the story of two such people, that were children at the time but had since grown up and had two disparate lives. I found this novel disturbing a feeling that its rather flat matter of fact tone enforced. The video of the author describing this book, was very helpful in that it explained where how and why the author became interested in this church. I also looked up this church on the good old wiki and still cant' quite understand these types of churches or cults or whatever. This book was short, but contained quite a bit. Very different.
The House at the End of Hope Street
by Menna van Praag
The House at the end of Hope (5/13/2013)
Loved this book. Magical, quirky, enchanting I could go on. All books do not have to be literary fiction, sometimes it is just so comforting to read a book that is fun, with some great characters and an important message, all couched in the most wonderful way. Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, many of literature greats as well as feminist icons are all present, speaking and helping the woman who are called to this house. Even the cups and saucers change pictures daily, the walls laugh and messages float down from the ceiling meant for those who need them the most. Feel almost like a child reading a wonderful book for the first time. Absolutely super!
Harvest
by Jim Crace
Harvest (5/3/2013)
Had a very hard time rating this book. The writing is outstanding, time and place one can imagine what living here is like. and an unreliable narrator. The tone is foreboding, a little like children of the corn, but much better prose. My problem is partly the pacing, which moves so slowly, also one can only read so much about grain harvest, chaff and pigs also I am not sure I liked the ending. Anyway very atmospheric, story is good once it gets going and I loved the prose. Will appeal to those readers who like slower paced atmospheric novels.
Amity & Sorrow
by Peggy Riley
Amity & Sorrow (5/3/2013)
Cults, members of cults, a mother and her two daughters, a farmer in Oklahoma and his somewhat adopted son, Rust,and an old man, these are the characters that make up this debut novel. I found the writing addictive, this novel taught me more than any other book about the reasons people join cults and the effect that being the member of a polygamous cult has on its people. Amity, who is twelve, is the main narrator and we see the world through her eyes. When her mother takes her and her sister escaping from the cult and a fire that has a devastating impact, the girls are lost.

Having been raised in the cult the older sister Sorrow, wants only to go back to what she has known. I can't quite figure out if Sorrow is just really messed up from this cult or is she is a psychopath or both, but she was one very messed up character. We see through Amity's eyes as she eats her first Doritos, sees a television for the first time and meets a boy who is not her brother.

There is a perfect balance in this novel between looking back and experiencing now. I found it a very powerful book, one where questions are inferred in the beginning and the reader is slowly lead to the answer. Charity and love are sharply contrasted against greed and selfishness. The ending is a revelation and one that ends with a sense of hope
Poppet: A Jack Caffery Thriller
by Mo Hayder
Poppet (5/3/2013)
Hayder was her usual brilliant but dark and gritty self and I love McCaffrey and Flea. Part of this story was the continuing story from her last book and part is a new case that takes place in a psychiatric facility. Of course things are never as they seem. I would not recommend trying to eat anything while reading parts of this novel, there is a very graphic section that is quite horrifying. Don't know how she does it again and again, but she never disappoints.

As for poppets, you will have to read this yourself to find out exactly what a poppet is. ARC from publisher.
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow: A Novel
by Rita Leganski
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow (4/25/2013)
Thank you , thank you Rita Leganski for writing this wonderful and magical novel, In a week that has seen so much tragedy in so many places, involving so may people, I was sorely in need of a little magic. This novel features some wonderful people, not least little Bonaventure Arrow who cannot speak but can hear things other people cannot. The prose is like liquid, it flows fluently and freely. Yet all is not sweetness and light, it is New Orleans in the 1950's, a place of root and voodoo and hoodoo and some strange going-ons. There are family secrets, religion and sadness and one particular dark happening that will tragically effect the future. Ultimately there is a secret and once that is found there will be forgiveness and love and new chances at life. I often see authors asked what one novel did they wish they could read again for the first time. I wish I could start this one over but alas. I may have found one of the few books I can see myself reading again. One must suspend a little belief, and like the atmospheric New Orleans and quite a bit of magical realism to love this novel.
The House at Belle Fontaine: Stories
by Lily Tuck
The House at Belle Fontaine (4/21/2013)
A very good grouping of stories, I love the way she writes. She is spare with her words, yet they are jarring nonetheless. These are stories of people at a crossroads, mainly women and set in foreign lands. Many times there is a choice and the choice they make determines their futures. I found the ending of one "Bloomsday in Bangkok' left me with such an incredible and horrifying image, that I actually dreamed about it last night. Don't get me wrong these are not horror stories by any means, it's just the normal creepiness one gets when confronted with different cultures. Well done.
Maggot Moon
by Sally Gardner
Maggot Moon (4/4/2013)
I have to admit I have never read anything like this book before. A Nazi regime type society in the fifties, in Great Britain where the country is divided into zones but where an amazing young man, who also happens to be dyslexic and not overly bright, lives. Standish Treadwell, a character I will not soon forget, loves metaphors and tries to do the right thing in a place where knowing how to do that is not easy or often rewarded. This novel is brutal and though YA, definitely not for the younger group of that genre, killings and beatings, people go missing, children are killed but those remaining try to foil the plans of the Motherland every chance they get. The book is a complete package, with small illustrations in black and white of flies, rats and poison. I found out it was almost like one of those flicker books, with the pictures moving when the pages are flipped. The book did not have a solid sense of connection, never explains how it got this way or why, that could be a problem for some readers, but for me I just loved Standish Treadwell and his grandpa.
Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories
by Ron Rash
Nothing Gold can stay (4/1/2013)
These stories have such a strong atmosphere of the Appalachians, which is of course what Rash is best noted for. I wasn't sure if his stories would follow the same path of his novels, his brutal honesty in his treatment of his characters and his at times rather violent twists. One has to think when reading these stories, he leaves much out and never sets the reader on a clear path. Some of them do not have definitive endings and it is up to the readers interpretation to figure out what happened or will happen. These are different and though there is some humor I would not say these stories are read for fun, they are read for a great sense of time and place, interesting characters that can alternately be both victim and villain. They are read because Rash is just plain good.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach
Gulp (3/29/2013)
Entertaining science, wish she had been my chemistry teacher in High School instead of the monosyllabic Mr. Worth, who I unfortunately had. Some of this is boring for sure, but some is just fascinating, some is oh so gross, but some is interesting and humorous to boot. Did you know they actually have a poop website? Who knew. There is also a section in this book about pet food tasters for all the pet lovers out there. Amusing informative and gross how can one lose? ARC from publisher.
The Miniature Wife: and Other Stories
by Manuel Gonzales
The Miniature Wife (3/7/2013)
Although I can't say that I liked all the stories in this collection I did like several. Among my favorites was the title story "Miniature Wife" and the first story about a high-jacked airplane, as well as the Mall story which kept my interest all the way through. It is hard to describe these stories, the best I can come up with is it is like falling asleep and having a really out there dream and than waking up and thinking "Where did that come from?" That is what some of these were like, and once again the imagination of the human mind can be astonishing.
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea: A Novel
by Dina Nayeri
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea (2/28/2013)
Iran, before the revolution when woman had some freedom, could attend school and many other liberties that we here in the states take for granted and after with the Mullahs and the morality police, all liberties and freedoms taken away. This is the setting for this novel, it is the story of two twin girls, their family and their neighbors and friends. When one of the twins believes her mother and sister have left for America, leaving her and her father behind, she invents stories about her sister and how her sisters life in America is playing out. Loving all things from this country, the music, the TV shows and the books, she learns as many English words as she can in the hope that one day she can go and find her sister and mother. The stories about the sister was an interesting literary device but I felt that these stories tended to go on much to often, and although I do understand the meaning behind them I feel I still would have understood if they had been shorter. I found myself skimming them. Of course life never turns out the way we plan and such was the case in this novel. I did finish this book with a pretty decent understanding of this country and its treatment of women, the story and the mystery of what really happened to her sister and mother definitely pulled me in. The characters were well rounded and I came away with the feeling that I knew them and wanted things to go well for them. This was a good book, excellent for a first novel and I look forward to reading many more from this author.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
by Therese Anne Fowler
Zelda (2/25/2013)
There is much to admire in this offering about Zelda, her life and of course her and Scott's lives. It is always great to read about this time period, all these writing greats, and always I am left wondering how if they were all forever broke, they managed to drink constantly and travel always. Of course it was hard to read of Zelda, her psyche crumbling and diagnosis of schizophrenia, her years in a mental facility.This is a well written book about interesting people who wrote many of the classics that are still revered today. My only little nagging complaint is that this Zelda is not as edgy as she has previously been portrayed. She is a little more sympathetic and a little more pitiful. Will appeal to readers of this time period and the authors that became famous from this group.
The Sound of Broken Glass: A James and Kincaid Novel
by Deborah Crombie
The Sound of Broken Glass (2/25/2013)
Another wonderful outing for the fearsome duo of Kinkaid and James. Kinkaid, acting as stay at home Dad, has his won problems trying to figure out what to do and how to handle little Charlotte. James, who had been promoted, has a case to solve with tentacles to the past. Enjoy reading about their family problems, I have been reading this series so long it is like catching up with old friends I haven't seen for a while. Not being from the UK, I know little about the Crystal Palace and the exhibition for which it was built, so I also learned something new. Although while reading the tidbits referring to the palace I kept wondering how it fit into the story but never fear, Crombie ties it all together in efficient Crombie fashion. Now another wait until I can catch up with Kinkaid and James once again.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker
by Ellen Meister
Farewell, Dorothy Parker (2/21/2013)
Sometimes it is just a welcome relief to read a humorous and less serious, just plain old fun novel. That is exactly what this book delivered.I remember my mother shooting off many of Dorothy Parker's one liners in answer to some of mine and my sister's constant questions. Violet Epps is a snarky movie critic, so one would expect her to be bold in life as well, but not true, in life she has the personality of a marshmallow. So Dorothy Parker comes to her rescue, summoned in a very strange way, and Violet's life is never the same again. Fans of Liane Moriarty will appreciate this book, has much of the same tongue in cheek humor. Great fun! ARC from publisher.

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