Reviews by Diane S.

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The Well
by Catherine Chanter
The Well (3/3/2015)
I'm not going to rehash the plot because the description on the book page is a very good one. I'm just going to write what I thought of the book. When I first started this it seemed a bit wordy, though I was interested to see where this was going and of course to find out who really killed Lucien, her five year old grandson. It soon became apparent that this is a character study of Ruth mainly but of others too, how they reacted to the circumstances. How the fact that rain only fell in one place, at the Well, while the rest of the continent seems to be in a drought. Sure brought out the worse in people as Chanter so ably describes.

I soon became immersed in this story, although it was centered in one place there was much happening. Neighbors turn against them, crazies come from all over and finally the Sisters of the Rose, who view Ruth as the chosen one. I found fascinating how Ruth herself, was induced into believing this, soon putting everything on the line. A good view of how people become seduced into a cult, acting against their own best interests.

I ended up really liking this book, it is very well written and the psychological aspects were intriguing. How people act and why, how they behave under untold stress. Did I feel sorry for Ruth? Yes and no, some I think she brought on herself but the penalty was one she didn't expect to pay. Although I did guess the who on the who done it, the ending was still a surprise because there is more than just the unmasking of the killer. All in all, I liked this book, it was different and in the end I felt satisfied with all I read.
God Help the Child: A novel
by Toni Morrison
God help the child (2/21/2015)
Absolutely amazing, Morrison can put a story together as very few can. Although only a short novel, so much is said, so much emotional territory is covered. When Sweetness, a light skinned black gives birth to a blue black baby, she is appalled as is her husband who quickly leaves the family. Treating her daughter, Lulu Ann roughly, she makes excuses for herself by thinking she is teaching her child how rough the world would treat her by the color of her skin. Calling herself Bride, Lulu Ann becomes a beauty and successful in business, but not so in love.

The story shows how treatment in the past follows a person into the future, the feelings of inferiority are hard to erase. How violence is dealt to the young and helpless by the very people trusted to take care and love them. This is a gritty novel, more reminiscent of her earliest novel, Bluest Eye. Her use of spare language, her word choices, descriptions and use of symbolism, I found awe inspiring. There is so much cause and effect in this novel, not just with the main characters but in many of the relationships found within. Although it is gritty, there are also good people, people who go out of their way to help a stranger.
Atonement, is it ever possible to atone for the bad decisions of the past? Can one ever truly overcome the bad events and memories of childhood?

Thought provoking novel by an author that has truly mastered her craft. She gets it!
The American Lover
by Rose Tremain
The American Lover (2/18/2015)
Loved so many of these varied stories. Her writing is amazing, fitting each story in each country and time period perfectly. From the Jester of Astapovo, where a man who signals in the trains, abhors the fact that nothing will ever happen in his life, just monotony, the same day by day.. Then two men and a woman arrive, the man clearly ill and needing a bed, which is supplied in the house of the train man. Turns out that the dying man is Tolstoy, furnishing more than enough memories to last the train man for the rest of his life.

Another story, The Housekeeper imagines Du Maurer visiting what will later be Manderley and the housekeeper will be the much maligned Mrs. Danvers. All these stories were entertaining with the common themes of loneliness, lust and just when some get their heart's desire, a tragedy occurs which derails the dream.
Vanessa and Her Sister
by Priya Parmar
Vanessa and her sister (2/2/2015)
Starting in 1904, this novel spans six years in the life of the Stephen family and the very talented members who make up the Bloomsbury group. I loved this book and loved that the novel is told from the journal or diary writings of Vanessa Bell. Additional letters from other members of the group along with telegrams and other travel paraphernalia, gave such a personal look at these amazing people and the beginnings of their success. Would love to been at their intellectual evenings discussing paintings and literature. Though I think having people around all the time must have been wearying at times.

Loved reading about Vanessa and her life, looked up illustrations of some of her paintings, which I liked immensely. Vanessa was the true touchstone of the family, always watching over Virginia's moods, though Virginia's possessiveness would cause a permanent rift between her and her sister. Loved that the author included at the end of the novel, a look at the personal and professional happenings of all on this group. Also a note telling the reader what actually happened and what was her invention. That much of this book was based in fact shows the huge amount of research that went into this novel's writing. Would have happily kept reading had the novel been longer, I was absolutely fascinated.
Honeydew: Stories
by Edith Pearlman
Honeydew (12/30/2014)
These stories are told in a vey economical use of prose and yet vividly descriptive. Many take place in Godolphin, Mass. And four stories contain Ronnie. Two, prominently feature her and her store forget-me knot, and were among my favorites. One story on female circumcision was very hard to read and I have to admit to not understanding the end. What I most liked about these were they were about people living there lives, confronted with something strange or unexpected. How they react to these changes were sometimes unexpected. In one it took till the last line before I figured out why this story was being told. Than I had to smile, thinking aha, finally got it. Brilliant.

Short story readers will find much to admire in this collection.

ARC from publisher.
Driving the King
by Ravi Howard
Driving the King (12/8/2014)
Though Cole lived in Montgomery until the age of four, his parents moved to Chicago where he was exposed to Chicago's burgeoning Jazz scene. Returning with his group to Montgomery to perform in a non segregated show, he was attacked. This is the story of Weary, a young man at the show, hoping to propose to his girlfriend and instead jumps down from the balcony and beats Cole's attacker with a microphone. Cole will perform one song and then, apologize to his audience and leave. In typical justice of the time, the white man who attacked Cole gets three years but Weary gets ten.

A story that has the definite flavor of that time period in the South. The bus boycott, the pressure put on the blacks to keep them in their place, along with a heartfelt story of King, who never gforgets a friend, and a young man who did more than just stand by.

There is no author's note but I did look up and much of the information in this book is accurate. King did get attacked but there was no Weary to come to his aid, his TV show did get cancelled in Los Angeles after one year due to lack of sponsors.

Good book with much worthy information and the invention of Weary was a good way to portray this changing time period in the South.
Lila
by Marilynne Robinson
Lila (10/24/2014)
There is something about the character Lila that I connected to in a big way. How she came to Gilead and married to a preacher is a story that is both poignant and life confirming. She is such a diverse character, wise yet naïve, suspicious yet giving, always thinking and searching for answers.

Reading about her young life, her life as a traveler, going wherever Doll, the woman who took her, needed to go in order to find work. Loved the character of Doll, the wise old woman who had such a tough life yet took a little girl in order to save and protect her. Such hard lives, especially during the depression when all work literally dried up, leaving little recourse for, those who lived on the road, going from place to place. Eventually Lila would find her way alone to Gilead, with a past she didn't want to speak of, but thought of often. She would find comfort sitting in the church and would find her way to the scriptures, looking for a reason for her own existence.

Loved this story, the writing and descriptions are just beautiful and serve to balance the sometimes ugliness of Lila's journey. I read Gilead a while ago and now want to re-read as I feel after reading this novel I will have a different perspective.
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
The Chidren Act (9/23/2014)
An author, I believe, takes a risk when he centers his novel around one character. So often a reader will rate their enjoyment of the book on whether or not they can relate to the character. In this story the main character is Fiona, approaching sixty she is a high court judge in the family court. She had given up the idea of having a child, concentrating on her career. She is long married to Jack, but their marriage has now hit a big road block.

In the beginning I felt a huge distance from the character, what kept me reading was her very interesting court cases and her inner thoughts about her judgments. But then, she does a few, very human out of character things and I slowly began to warm to her. Soon a big case, involving a seventeen yr. old boy, a Jehovah's witness whose parents and himself are refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds, will alter her life in unexpected ways.

This is a quiet, introspective novel, the writing almost seamless. I enjoyed all the music references throughout as Fiona and a fellow lawyer play at various events. A whole person began to emerge, flawed like most of us, I began to take this character to heart. My enjoyment of this book slowly crept up on me and I realized just how much this author had included in this rather short novel. So I ended up liking this much more at the end than I did at the beginning.
Florence Gordon
by Brian Morton
Florence Gordon (9/21/2014)
Many years back, one of my favorite TV shows, was shown on our local PBS station and was called Waiting for God. It was about a group of seniors in senior housing and the character I loved was named Diana. She asked for and took no mercy, had a very ironic wit and basically insisted on living the life that was left to her on her own terms. She reminded me so much of Florence Gordon.

At 74, Florence too lives life exactly the way she wants. She is a writer, a feminist prominent in the sixties and seventies and a staunch believer in her own space and privacy. She has friends yes, but they are much like her, gutsy woman who insist on looking after themselves, living their own lives. She has been divorced for many years an has one son, a college age granddaughter, and a daughter in law.

Of course a story about a set in her ways 74 yr.old would get tedious before the end of the book, so there are complications, with he family and other difficult things. I loved reading about her burgeoning relationship with a grand-daughter she had previously paid little attention.

When I am her age I want to be her. How many of us have gone to a party and said, or at least wanted to say, thanks for the party, it is a honor but now I am going home? I am honored please keep celebrating without me.

Wonderfully portrayed and kudos to the author who is a male but has written a book about an admirable woman. I also want to say that this book had one of the most fitting endings I have read in a while.
Em and the Big Hoom
by Jerry Pinto
Em and the Big Hoom (9/16/2014)
Absolutely love the title of this little gem of a book. Bombay, India and a family of four, the son in his twenties, his younger sister, his dad who they call the big hoom and his mother, whose bi-polar illness has effected them all.

Love the way this was written, humorously, truthfully but not meant to send the reader into pangs of anguish, Just a young man, concerned that he may develop this illness, asking questions and seeking answers.
So much of their lives revolved around the mother's illness, not bringing friends home, always making sure someone was with the mom when she was particularly bad, hospitalizing her when necessary and then visiting so she would not feel abandoned.

How did his parent's meet? When did she first show signs? Yet throughout the story one is aware of how very much this family was together, how much love was actually shared and it was all quite poignant and wonderful, if at times a bit melancholy. Mental illness is such an individual thing and this book does a great job at pointing this out.
Nora Webster
by Colm Toibin
Nora Webster (8/20/2014)
In plain and unsentimental prose, Toibin gives us the story of a woman, Nora Webster, whose husband of many years has died. Leaving her alone, with two younger boys and two older daughters, she must find her way through life for herself and her children.

I enjoyed this quiet and unassuming novel, watching Nora and the boys change as Nora learns to live her own life. I loved the moment, three years later, when she realizes she can do what she wants now, that there is no one who can tell her she can't. In this case, it was about redecorating her home. I loved the two boys, they too change in many ways, but the youngest watches closely everything that goes on. It takes great skill as a writer to make the most common events interesting and for me this author did just that.

Taking place in Ireland against the backdrop of the Catholic protestant violence and the burning of the embassy, but also against the backdrop of wonderful music, Nora eventually finds her way forward. It takes the help of family, a wonderful ex-nun who is a music teacher and another nun who watches out for Nora from afar.

A wonderful and unassuming read.
Small Blessings
by Martha Woodroof
Small Blessings (8/11/2014)
When Rose first arrives, a thirty-something unmarried woman, at the college bookstore where she has been hired, she manages to charm everyone in her path. I had a few inner doubts, wondering if this book was going to be one of those unrealistic all sweetness and light novels. As I read on though all those doubts disappeared. These are all characters who on the surface seem to be doing quite well, but underneath are dealing with the same hopes and fears many of us have to face.

An unexpected death and the arrival of six year old Henry will change things in a big way for all the characters. These are ordinary people trying to come to terms with the unusual circumstances they now find their selves involved in. I really loved the warmth and caring Woodruff shows in portraying these people, the understanding and doubts that make them fully fleshed people. My favorite character though is Agnes, Tom's mother in law, she has suffered a tragedy in her past, she is wise, caring and funny. How all these characters join together, help each othe3 but grow individually is what made this novel a special one for this reader. Positive novels, although everyone does not get what they want by book's end, are far and few between.

Told with a great deal of humor this was a wonderful novel. The title small blessings reminded me of my grandmother who always told us to be grateful form the small things we are given.
Neverhome: A Novel
by Laird Hunt
Neverhome (8/9/2014)
Over four hundred women fought on both sides of the Civil War. This is a story about one of the woman, Constance, who leaves her husband to take care of their farm in Indiana and goes off to fight for the Union.

In a short number of pages we follow Constance, who becomes Ash, as she hikes, hunts and forages for food, to the horrific and costly battle at Antietam,and through other trials and misfortunes. What is so amazing in this book is how detailed everything is, how wonderful the writing, how convincing the story was and how it paints a small slice of the Civil War. The blacks trying to move North, hoping to find a better life, the friendships made, the horror of battle and seeing the dead all around, the piles of limbs from the amputations, those on the road who are the walking wounded are all related here.

A powerful, albeit short novel that covers so much ground and does it so convincingly. A gutsy heroine whose misfortunes will not end after her service in the war and the secondary characters whose stories are heartbreaking as well, but still manage to provide a helping hand. A small glimpse of history, poignantly told.
Fives and Twenty-Fives
by Michael Pitre
fives and twenty-fives (8/9/2014)
An honest and significant work highlighting those who served in the Iraqi war, their motivations for joining, their fears and their struggles trying to assimilate back into a normal life. It is narrated by three different men, the most interesting to me was Dodge, the Iraqi interpreter.
During the war these three men were part of a crew that filled in Iraqi potholes, where every pothole had a bomb that needed to be detonated. All the characters were complex and the description were very detailed. Also love the introduction of Huck Finn and the meanings found within the text.

The author was a Marine captain and this added authenticity to the storyline and peaked my interest in this accounting of a war I only knew from the television and newspaper accounts. Wonderfully written, honest and raw.
We Are Called to Rise: A Novel
by Laura McBride
We are called to rise (8/9/2014)
The opening scene in this novel was humorous, sad but humorous as well. I could really picture this happening, it was so realistic and vivid. Than everything got serious, pretty quickly. The novel is narrated by four different characters, the youngest named Bashkim is eight. He quickly stole my heart, so wise for his years, always thinking and loving his little sister and his Nene. Avis, the character in the opening scene, proves to be a very strong person. I quite admired her. All these people live in Las Vegas, and it was very interesting reading about people raising families in this city of gambling and touristy. Making regular lives among the chaos.

Some of these characters are facing life changing events, all are realistically portrayed. There are so many quotable lines in this novel, sometimes I felt that there were maybe too many, at times bordering on the preachy. Yet, the authors portrayal of her characters is so very realistic that I became invested in their outcome. Her secondary characters were also amazing. It is hard to take these types of problems and allow the characters to find some kind of resolution and hope for the future. McBride does it and well.

Very sad at times, but somehow, often with the help of others, there are resolutions. Some things cannot be changed or fixed, but it was wonderful seeing the many people that pulled together to find solutions. I loved that part, near the very end of the book. It became very emotional for me. I loved reading Avis's story, after all the things that happened to her, she still put herself out there. Would I ever have the strength to do what Avis does at the end of the book? I have five sons of my own and I certainly hope I would have the courage to do so.

Poignant first novel by an author to watch.
Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Everything I never told you (7/9/2014)
From the opening sentence, I could tell this was going to be a somewhat difficult read. In the fifties, mixed marriages were frowned on, not just black and white, but in this case Chinese and white. Marilyn had long wanted to be a doctor at a time when woman were expect4d to marry, keep house, have children and not much else. Then she meets James, A Chinese professor and finds out she is having his child, her plans change and they marry.

A story about expectations, about fitting in or not, being different from your classmates, a look at racial and gender prejudice, and a sensitive look at a family in crisis. As James and Marilyn foster their hopes and dreams on their daughter Lydia, they are blind to what is really happening in their family. After her death, they search for answers and quietly truths and secrets are revealed. The reader hears the thoughts and feelings of each member of the family and what they find is emotionally shattering. They must now, as a family, pick up the pieces and start again.

In the face of tragedy it is natural to dwell on what is lost, instead of looking forward to what is left. This is the decision this family must make, and the author did a fantastic job of showing us that what led them here and how they can move forward. A well written, poignant and stirring novel by a debut author. A quiet story told with grace and wisdom.
The Painter
by Peter Heller
The PAinter (6/6/2014)
When I first started this book I had some trouble getting into it. What kept me reading were the wonderful words and beautiful descriptions of scenery and wildlife and the compelling, but complicated persona that is the character Jim Stegner. This is a novel of contrasts, dark and gritty alongside beauty and peace.

Jim is a haunted man, a man at war, not in some other country, but within his own self. He seeks peace in painting and fly fishing and there are many descriptions of both. He is haunted by his Mother's death when he was a teenager and before he had a chance to tell her he loved her and by his fifteen yr.old daughters murder. Now a painter whose paintings sell quite well, he is living the life of a recluse in Colorado. He paints and fished to forget and also to remember. He is a smart man, one who reads novels and quotes from his favorite poets.

Yet within his psyche lives darkness and as once before an incident for which he served jail time, a situation will find him again losing control. Will the darkness once again control his life, or will he find peace and acceptance within himself? As the tension mounts and the new trouble threatens his peace, freedom and life, his paintings get better and better, come faster and faster. This will confront him with another moral dilemma.

Told in a first person narrative, this is an amazing book about a man's quest for redemption. Using nature and painting to exercise his demons, a man wanting peace but his very nature makes this less than impossible. A book to be patient with and to feel the emotional impact of this character. He could be anyone of us.
The Hollow Ground: A Novel
by Natalie S. Harnett
Hollow Ground (6/6/2014)
A very strong debut set in the 1960's in Pennsylvania coal country.
Brigid Hawley is eleven yrs old, a girl that has had to grow up fast, due to the impoverished circumstances of her parents and their dysfunctional lives. When the underground fires consume her aunt's house where her family was living they move into the house of her grandmother and grandfather. Her mother does not get along with the grandmother and her father is far from the family favorite. It is here that things rapidly disintegrate.

The family curse, which they blame on all misfortune, the raging fires and nighttime visits by a man who monitors the air in their house, a mine accident, black lung disease and the total let down of the government and its infernal delays and paperwork. Secrets revealed in both her father's and mothers lives, send things spiraling and causing Brigid to make adjustments in her thinking time and time again.

Brigid is unaccountably the star of this novel, her anguish, wanting to find a home, to keep her parents together are all so heartfelt. I really felt for this young lady. She is wise beyond her years and eventually comes to term with the many lessons she has to learn.

""That's what wanting does, I guess. It takes away everything, even
the pleasure of getting the thing you wanted in the first place."

A hard lesson for a young girl to have to learn.
What Is Visible
by Kimberly Elkins
What is visible (6/6/2014)
Took me a while to read this one, not because I did not like it but because I kept looking things up in Wiki. Most everyone has heard or read about Helen Keller, but I for one had never heard of Laura Bridgman. Her story, on fact, began fifty years before that of Kellers.

She was left blind and mute following an illness when she was two yrs. Old, she was eight when she was sent to The Perkins School under the guidance of Samuel Howe. She is the first to learn English and the first to learn to communicate using finger writing. The author did a fabulous job portraying Laura, her fears and inner turmoil, her confusion over religion, her strength and her naiveté. She was an extraordinary woman, dealing with multiple handicaps.

The character of Samuel was of course as a man of the times. The sun should only involve around him and he did everything he could to keep the woman in his life in line. I did not much like him, though I realize his character was not an uncommon one for this time period.

Samuels wife was Julia Ward Howe, who was a poet and suffragist as well as an abolitionist. She was not allowed to publish under her name
while married to Samuel. He would not allow it but of course she became famous in her own right.

So many people passed through this book, so much history, John Brown, whom Laura thought mad, and the Harpers Ferry disaster. The assassination of Lincoln, The Civil War, The study of phrenology, and the debates about religion.

The afterward explains exactly what was true and what was not. Annie Sullivan actually lived with Laura for several years and graduated from the Perkins school herself.

Wonderful book, clearly stated prose, well rounded characters make this a very informative read. As is stated in the book, without Laura Bridgman there would have been no Helen Keller.
Love and Treasure
by Ayelet Waldman
Love & Treasure (6/6/2014)
What first attracted me this book was the mention of the Hungarian Jews, most of the Holocaust books I have read seemed to be of the German or Polish Jews. That this takes place after the Americans have liberated the camps was also a plus. The 42 car gold train, as it came to be known ended up in Hungary and was put into the control of the Americans and for the purpose of this story into the protection of a young American Jewish officer, named Jack Wiseman. The cars of course filled with the possessions of the Hungarian Jews sent to the camps and many to their deaths. What happened to the Jewish people that survived the camps, but no longer had any place to call home, no where to go?

This is a generational novel and though it starts with Jack and then on to his granddaughter, the storyline actually follows a peacock necklace that Jack takes from the warehouse. The story is divided into three parts, each part interesting in its own way, following history and the rightful owner of this necklace. The last part even lets us into the thought processes of an eminent psychiatrist. A story well told of guilt, love, new beginnings and forgiveness.

In the last part of the book Jack ridden with guilt over taking the necklace realizes,
"The wealth of the Jews of Hungary, of all of Europe, was to be found not in the laden boxcars of the Gold Train but in the grandmothers and mothers and daughters themselves, in the doctors and lawyers, the grain dealers and psychiatrists, the writers and artists and artists who had created a culture of sophistication, of intellectual and artistic achievement. And that wealth, everything of real value, was but all extinguished."

As with all the best novels, this one has pointed me toward further reading. In the acknowledgements, the author mentions the guidance of Ronald Zweig, and his book "The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary"

I read in the Wiki, that a settlement agreement of this gold train by the United States took place on September 30, 2005. So many years later.

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