Reviews by Louise J

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Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir
by Margaux Fragoso
Sad & Devastating! (4/24/2011)
Margaux Fragoso had a sexual relationship for 15 years with a pedophile. She was only 7-years-old when she first met Peter Curran. Margaux says she was: “...Peter’s religion”. He had 22 photo albums full of pictures of Margaux.

spoilers removed

This is just an overview of the story and believe it or not, there is so, so much more to this tale that you’ll be utterly surprised, shocked and sickened. However, if you have a difficult time dealing with thoughts of pedophiles molesting young children, then this book would be far too heavy emotionally for you to read. I wasn’t quite prepared enough myself to read this memoir.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel
by Paolo Giordano
Sad Yet Beautiful (4/14/2011)
The story centers around three main characters: Alice, Michela, and Mattia. Alice lives with her parents and has always defied them in some way. When she was younger she hated attending ski school and at age fifteen she wanted a tattoo but her father told her “no”, that when she turned eighteen and was paying her own way, she could then get a tattoo.

Michela and Mattia are twins but Michela suffers from mental problems and is quite behind developmentally. One day Mattia and Michela are invited to a birthday party but Mattia is too embarrassed to take his sister with him so instead, he drops her off at the park and tells her not to move that he’d be back in half an hour to pick her up. When Mattia returns, Michela is gone!

As Mattia and Alice grow they become friends but Pietro Balossino, Mattia’s father, is tired of trying to infiltrate his son’s strange and obscure world. He had spent many nights searching the house for sharp objects after seeing the scars on Mattia’s arms. Pietro thought so much about one day finding his son face down on a blood soaked pillow that he is already thinking of his son as non-existent.

This is a coming-of-age story, a love story, a story of loneliness with a touch of melancholy and a depiction of damaged soul mates whose hearts are kindred spirits. This debut novel was a joy to read.
Pictures of You
by Caroline Leavitt
Riveting (4/11/2011)
Thirty-six-year-old Isabelle is leaving Cape Cod, her husband Luke, has a baby with his new girlfriend. All Isabelle is leaving with is: her cameras, one small suitcase of clothing, and money from the bank. She is heading for New York where she has a cheap, illegal sublet lined up that she can use for as long as she wants and she has her photography business. Driving westbound on US-6 the fog is thick making it impossible to see with headlights so Isabelle turns on her parking lights which provide her with a much better visibility.

About three hours from home, Isabelle very suddenly comes across a car in her lane, stopped and facing the wrong way! A woman is standing outside her car and her little boy climbs out when he sees Isabelle’s car heading straight for them. With no time to stop on the narrow road, she has nowhere to go so she attempts to veer her vehicle around the stopped car. Unfortunately, the little boy begins to run and the mother tries to push herself closer to her own vehicle but Isabelle hits them head-on anyway. We find out that one of the people in the accident dies and the other two live.

I was pulled in and mesmerized from the first page. After we get over the shock of the accident, the book goes on to sort out the lives of four different people. It’s heartbreaking, riveting and deeply moving all at the same time. Leavitt’s ability to write with a realness of life, its people and situations is uncanny. This was a masterfully created and told story.
Everything Asian: A Novel
by Sung J. Woo
Beautiful, Gentle & Sweet!! (4/9/2011)
I loved this story!! Young David Kim immigrates to the United States from Korea in the 1980’s with his mother and sister. Their father has already been in America for the past five years trying to build a business and getting some money behind him before his family re-joined him. He owns a store in New Jersey called “East Meets West” in the Peddlerstown Mall and sells various items such as: kimonos, candles, vases, dragons and other miscellaneous items.

The chapters alternate between stories told by each family member and other people who own stores at the mall. Every character in the story is interesting, and has a convincing story of their own to tell. Mr. Hong and his family become friends with the Kim’s and near the end of the book the Kim’s suffer a tragedy together with the Hong family.

The story is gentle, funny, beautifully written and is about the coming of age story of David who is in between two very different cultures but meets them with both grace and humour.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel
by Helen Simonson
Slow Going (4/5/2011)
Wow, this is a really hard book for me to review because I’m not quite sure I enjoyed it all that much. It was very hard to get through as it’s long-winded in detail which I find very mundane. The meeting of Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali in their late 60’s and 50’s, respectively, was a nice touch. We don’t often think of people of that age finding new love interests and it shows that no matter how old we are, we all need some form of love. I’ll leave my comments at that.
The Red Thread: A Novel
by Ann Hood
Awesome Read! (3/27/2011)
The Red Thread contained a lot of characters which sometimes can become confusing, but Ms. Hood laid the story out so well that the characters were easy to keep separated in your mind.

The story is about several families who want to adopt Chinese babies with the help of ‘The Red Thread Adoption Agency’. There were so many heart-tugging moments and Ms. Hood included part of her own life. Unfortunately, she lost her own five-year-old daughter, Grace.

All of the couples involved were unable to conceive except one. She previously had a biological child born with Fragile X syndrome and didn’t want to chance birthing a second child with Fragile X.

The deep desire in these couple’s hearts is a thread that connects too many people. This book was an awesome read!
A Free Life
by Ha Jin
Inspirational (3/24/2011)
Ha Jin does a wonderful job of bringing the awareness of immigration to the forefront in this novel. Each day, immigrants often have to deal with the process of identity change and racism due to their colour.

Pingping and Nan immigrated to the United States and their six-year-old son, Taotao, arrives later. One sad part of this family is that Nan doesn’t love his wife, Pingping, and instead pines for his old girlfriend. Pingping is aware of this but she remains a committed and loving wife to Nan and hopes one day he will realize how very, very much she loves him.

Nan is adamant that TaoTao be raised ‘American’ and not as a ‘Chinese’ as he believes the Chinese must endure too much suffering.

Pingping and Nan found it extremely difficult in America for the first two years until they’d saved $30,000 to buy a restaurant to manage and these proved to be difficult times. Nan writes poetry and it is one of his poems that is the essence of the entire novel.

Wonderfully written but at 696 pages, it took me a couple of days to read it. However, this is a novel I would recommend to anyone.
The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir
by Farah Ahmedi, Tamim Ansary
An Inspirational Memoir for Everyone! (3/22/2011)
Farah was seven-years-old and had overslept one morning. Worried that she was late for school she decided to take a short cut through a field, saving her two or three minutes but little did Farah know that decision would turn out to be the worst of her life.

(spoilers removed)

Farah is an inspiration to all of us that even in the direst of circumstances and pain that we can survive and endure. It takes a deep faith and commitment to deal with what Farah did but she is now a beacon of light for many.

This was an amazing memoir which I would recommend to anyone and you’ll be amazed at what Farah and her mother went through.
Willow Run
by Patricia Reilly Giff
Excellent!! (3/20/2011)
Margaret “Meggie” Dillion lives in Rockaway, New York with her mother, father and grandfather. Her old brother, Eddie, has enlisted to fight in the war and everyone is having a difficult time coping with Eddie’s absence.

Meggie’s Grampa is German and she’s heard rumours around town that anyone German will be arrested and Meggie worries constantly about him. The fact that he has a German accent isn’t helping her feel any better nor is the fact that two older boys came and painted a red swastika on his kitchen window which Meggie removed herself with turpentine before her Grampa could see it and get upset.

Suddenly, Meggie’s father announces that the family needs to help the war effort, packs everyone up and moves to Willow Run, Michigan. Grampa decides to stay home and Meggie is very sad to be leaving him behind. Once they arrive in Willow Run, Meggie is shocked to see the horrible housing they’ll have to live in while her father works at the factory building bombs piece-by-piece.

Meggie meets Lily, Patches, Harlan and a couple of other kids who slowly form a bond during the time they’re in Willow Run. All of the kids have some family member who is fighting in the war and Meggie finds herself faced with questions about courage, and what it takes to go into battle like her brother Eddie, and to keep hope alive on the home front.

This was a really cute story for kids aged nine to twelve years of age. I had originally thought it was a novel and didn’t notice when I ordered it that it said: “...for ages nine through twelve”. It was still a really good read and rather relaxing!
Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
by Ann Hood
Beautiful Yet Sad (3/19/2011)
This is a beautiful yet very sad memoir about the sudden death of Ann’s five-year-old daughter, Grace, from an aggressive form of strep throat. Told with integrity and honesty, Ann reveals just how tough it was and still is for her, four years later, to cope with her great loss.

Grace was a beautiful, precocious little girl who was in kindergarten and learning, of all things, to speak Chinese!! Her older brother, Sam, just adored her and the two of them got along like two peas in a pod.

Ann and her husband, Lorne, managed to maintain their relationship throughout the grieving process and unlike a lot of couples coping with the death of a child, become closer instead of being wedged apart in their grief.

Gorgeously written with harrowing candor, Comfort is a tribute to Grace and at the same time to this broken-hearted family.
Every Last Cuckoo: A Novel
by Kate Maloy
The Uniqueness of Family... (3/19/2011)
Sarah is seventy-five years old and thought her life was settled and like a lot of elderly assumed that she and her husband, Charles, would live out their old age together in their rural Vermont home. Sarah is an amazing character and has a wonderful relationship with her family and her friends.

After the death of her beloved husband Charles, Sarah must learn how to love again and that loving means learning to love through loss but she finds she is unable to find ‘peace’. Slowly, Sarah begins to take in wilful and wayward souls. The first person to stay with Sarah is her disobedient granddaughter, Lottie, who can’t stand living with her mother, then an Israeli soldier who needs a retreat; a woman with her baby who is escaping her violent partner and finally a young Mom with her son who have lost their home to a fire. Why is Sarah doing this taking in these boarders? She has wonderful memories of her parents doing the same thing during the Great Depression and wants to preserve that memory.

Through this group of people, Sarah flashes back on wonderful memories of times spent with her husband in loving snapshots in her mind, while reinventing herself. All in all this was a good solid story and makes you think about the uniqueness of the word “family”.
The Final Confession of Mabel Stark: A Novel (An Evergreen book)
by Robert Hough
Welcome to the Circus! (3/18/2011)
Written as a fictional autobiography in the first person, 'The Final Confession of Mabel Stark' is a true-life historical account of Mabel Stark who made a name for herself by becoming the world's greatest female tiger trainer during the early to mid-1900's when the circus was the most popular form of entertainment. Stark was a centre-ring act for the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Now 80-years-old, Mabel recounts her life and confesses to the proud and not so proud moments and events of her life, from a rebellious teenager growing up in Kentucky as Mary Haynie, through five marriages and at least a dozen severe maulings by the very tigers she became world famous for training. Through the colourful and descriptive narration you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time and are there, with Mabel, observing from somewhere underneath the big top! You can almost smell the oil from the tiger’s skin, breathe in the heady scent of the straw bales set out as seats for circus goers, and hear the crack of the tiger trainer’s whip, and shouts of instruction to the animals!

Mabel, a woman filled with love, courage, strength, tragedy, and adventure is not reluctant to show her abrasive and brash sides. She is not a woman to hold her tongue or pussy-foot her way around etiquette and manners, and is not adverse to projecting her tough-as-nails persona, creating antagonism, or speaking about her sexually promiscuous exploits.

Robert Hough proves to us in this great piece of writing that even us imperfect and flawed human beings can contribute to society in positive and remembered ways. Mabel’s quick wit, sharp tongue and indelible stubbornness will leave you wanting to hear more of little Mary Haynie's life. I couldn’t put this book down and didn't want it to end!
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul: A Novel
by Deborah Rodriguez
A Sweet Story!! (3/15/2011)
I’d read Deborah’s first book, a debut memoir titled: “The Kabul Beauty School” so of course I’ve been anxious to read this one, her first debut work of fiction “A Cup of Friendship”.

The novel is centered around the “Kabul Coffee House” in Afghanistan right in the middle of a war zone. Sunny, an American woman, is the owner and along with her Afghan employees her coffee house is home to a mixed variety of people: a British journalist, a country widow, a wealthy American named Candace and the pregnant Yasmina. The characters are lovable and their good qualities seep through in the story and you’ll want to help them overcome their faults yourself.

This was an extremely good book in giving you a bird’s eye view of an American working in the dirty and dusty city of Kabul surrounded by her newest friends and family. Deborah’s years of living in Afghanistan herself has provided her with a perceptive eye which added to the story, her experiences there leak through into this story giving us a clearer picture of what Afghanistan is really like. Well done!
How to Be an American Housewife: A Novel
by Margaret Dilloway
A Great First Novel!!! (3/13/2011)
How to Be An American Housewife is a beautiful Japanese/American story of a family who fell out of favour with some relatives in Japan. For forty-years Taro, and his older sister, Shoko did not speak to each other or communicate in any way. Shoko married an American Navy man in Japan and then moved to America with her husband, Craig after the falling out. Shoko had two children: Mike and Sue.

The story is rich with historical information and we visit places such as: Nagasaki, Kumamoto (to see the famous Kumamoto Castle), Peace Park, Uwajiima, Suizenji Jojuen Park, and Kyushu to name a few.

Now in her sixties, Shoko had planned to go to Japan to find her younger brother, Taro but she became too ill with heart problems to go, so she asked her daughter Sue to go in her place. Sue and her twelve-year-old daughter, Helena flew to Japan and began their two week search for her Uncle Taro.

This novel is life affirming, poignant, and proves that no matter the distance we live from someone, or the number of years that have passed without speaking, there is always room for forgiveness and redemption.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel
by Beth Hoffman
5-Star...Delicious Winner!! (3/12/2011)
Oh, I absolutely LOVED this novel!!! For a debut novel it really belongs up there with the season author’s. Beth Hoffman’s first novel is adorable, sweet, tear-jerking, heart-tugging, wise, and speaks to the wonderful hospitality, etiquette and good manners of people in the South.

The characters are so well developed in the novel. You will absolutely love CeeCee, Tootie, Oletta and Mrs. Odell. However, the relationship that CeeCee and Oletta carve out is unbelievable. Just their relationship alone will make you laugh and make you cry. Aunt Tootie’s kindness toward CeeCee is overwhelming, I wish she’d adopt me!

You’ll love the cray neighbours, especially Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Goodpepper who don’t get along with each other at all and you’ll laugh your head off at a particular scene that takes place in Ms. Hobbs backyard one dark night with CeeCee and Ms. Goodpepper, unbeknownst to Ms. Hobb, are witnessing moment-by-moment. And you’ll be shocked and then laugh at what they pull at an elegant afternoon garden party for CeeCee.

All in all this was one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’d recommend that everyone pick this one up, you won’t be disappointed!! This is definitely going on my permanent bookshelf.
Raising Wrecker: A Novel
by Summer Wood
Amazing Story! (3/12/2011)
I absolutely loved this book!! Wrecker is the story of a little three-year-old boy who was abandoned by his mother after she was put in jail with a 30 year sentence. He was raised by three very different women: Melody, Ruth and Willow. Melody was his “mother” and the other two were helpful in supporting her but they often clashed on certain issues when it came to Wrecker.

Motherhood is a loosely used term here as it was such a different environment that Wrecker was raised in, a very unique family. The novel will pull at your heartstrings and keep you reading through the night.
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise: A Novel
by Julia Stuart
What A Hoot!! (3/9/2011)
The engrossing story of a Beefeater, otherwise known as Yeoman Warder Balthazar Jones. He lives in the Tower of London with his wife, Hebe, but they are grieving over Milo, the son they lost and their own marriage which is falling apart. The other occupants of the Tower include: a prize-winning Priest who secretly writes pornography under an alias, another Beefeater ‘Ravenmaster’ who is cheating on his wife, and Mrs. Cook, a 181 year old tortoise. There are other animals living at the Tower and they often present with challenges for the Beefeaters like when a special Etruscan shrew dies, and they tell people it’s hibernating!

Balthazar Jones is a complicated man obsessed with weather and actively collects rain. It’s an odd hobby for sure, but its part of how he deals with the loss of his son. It is the very unique details that make the characters of this story so special.

Julia Stuart has written a fun book that is both serious at times yet laugh-out-loud funny at others. Anyone who picks up this book is in for the long haul!!
The Case of the Missing Servant: A Vish Puri Mystery
by Tarquin Hall
Great Read! (3/8/2011)
Private Investigator Vish Puri is also the managing director of ‘Most Private Investigators Ltd. A well respected and honest public litigator has been accused of killing Mary, his maidservant. Vish must also investigate a second case involving a potential bridegroom.

Vish’s character is perfect except he has an immense fear of flying. Luckily for Vish, he has a team of operatives that support him, especially his Mommy who conducts her own investigation.

There are actually three mysteries in the story but I’ll let you discover the other one on your own, but each mystery is very well done. Tarquin Hall’s writing is first class. Tarquin spent many years in India so he knows and understands the country and its people well.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book that kept me turning page after page. I kept telling myself that once I got to the end of the chapter I’d go to bed. Well, I didn’t. Once I read the first page of the next chapter, then I’d have to read the whole thing!
Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil
by Deborah Rodriguez, Kristin Ohlson
Kabul Beauty School (3/6/2011)
Deborah Rodriguez was a hairdresser from Michigan with a degree in cosmetology who decided to move to Afghanistan and teach the women of Kabul how to be beauticians. As she was working out the details of how her hairdressing school would be run, she heard of Mary MacMakin who had already dedicated herself to the women of Afghanistan and was in the process of working on the Kabul Beauty School. Debbie quickly joined forces with Mary and became the first teacher of the first class in 2003.

During her years in Kabul she befriended a lot of women from her classes who themselves went on to teach as well. Her friendships with these women meant a lot as the majority were victims of terrible beatings and rapes by their husbands and were frightened and lacking in self-confidence. By educating them Debbie had empowered these women and given them the knowledge and courage to begin working and they often made more money than their spouses.

Kabul Beauty School was a book I couldn’t put down and it will provide you with an immensely pleasurable read and a longing to have Debbie as your friend.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story
by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
An Unusual Memoir!! (3/5/2011)
Elisabeth Tova Bailey is bedridden with a mysterious disease that has left her paralyzed but she finds meaning in her life through observing a small woodland snail!! The snail served as her entertainment, her connection to a world beyond her own suffering and gave her hope and strength to carry on and wait for her health to improve. Being bedridden she is cut-off from the world and lives like a “hermit” just like her snail.

Ms. Bailey does not complain about her illness, her time is better spent being curious about her snail and marveling at how resilient it is. By watching so intently and being a studious pupil, Bailey tells us she wants to fight her illness but that wouldn’t have been possible without her snail.

The latter part of the book reads more like a textbook on snails and other mollusks, but I would have liked to hear more of Bailey’s life and her thoughts about her illness.

There is one line in the book that I will quote here because I find it is so very, very true. “Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten.”

Anyone who reads this is going to love it and it’s not like your typical memoir, it’s a very different type of story which you’ll thoroughly enjoy!

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