Reviews by Sandi W.

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The Winter Soldier
by Daniel Mason
Starts slow and builds up speed.... (10/6/2018)
I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. I felt it read like a foreign dictionary. I was disappointed. I so liked Mason's book The Piano Tuner and was excited to get a chance to read this one. I had so much trouble starting this novel that I almost set it aside. I realize now that having done that would have been a loss for me.

Lucius, dreams of being a surgeon. Much to his Mothers disappointment he enters the military during WW1. He ends up in an abandoned church being used as a field hospital in Lemnowice, in the Carpathian Mountains. He expects his training to continue, but instead finds himself as the only surgeon there, a surgeon unsure of himself and thoroughly inexperienced. Under deplorable conditions he finds Sister Margarete in charge. Under her tutelage, Lucius learns quickly and takes over his role as surgeon.

Shattering presence, heart wrenching, unconscionable pain and suffering, all vivid for the reader to visualize. This story is plot-driven, is full of action, springs forth with brutal detail, and may not end as you desire. However, it truly has the mark of Mason, excellence.
A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel
by John Boyne
A life in chapters... (10/6/2018)
This may be book that you will love to hate, or hate to love? Boyne did a fabulous job on the three separate chapters. He pulled them all together by high-lighting one person, Maurice Swift. Each chapter told by a different person, each chapter a different period in life, and each chapter more absorbing than the last.

Maurice Swift's deepest desire is to be a novelist. Through each period of his life, he is able to publish a book. It is his method however, that leaves a lot to be desired.

It was unique the way Boyne pulled the life of Maurice Swift together. While reading chapter two I was missing the players in the first chapter and was also taken a bit off guard. I did not feel lost exactly, but it took a minute to understand the change in the protagonists life due to the second chapter being told by a different narrator.

John Boyne has an aptitude to grab you with his writing and project you through the story. Each book I have read by Boyne has been unique and very satisfying. His stories just absorb you and carry you along - on a trip that you do not regret taking.
Sold on a Monday
by Kristina McMorris
Sincer, Absorbing, Historical read... (8/29/2018)
Great historical story set in 1931 Pennsylvania. Based on the research of a factual picture showing a sign selling 4 children on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 - the desperation of just one family. McMorris, after following up with the children in that picture and learning of their sordid life after being sold, made the decision to write this book.

Centered around a journalist who is trying to become a headlining reporter, Ellis Reed, writes a story after seeing a sign which advertises two children for sale. Having to recreate the picture, since it was accidentally destroyed, he later finds out that the children in the staged picture were actually sold. His journey begins as he tries to set his mistake right.

McMorris did a really good job on this book. Based on a true situation it had the feel of realism, as something that could easily have happened in the past. The tension builds as the story sucks you into it's world. Her characters, of which there are few, drove this story. Each character was going through their own problems and struggling to find a solution, a safe place. A sincere, absorbing historical read.
Vox
by Christina Dalcher
Possible - maybe... (8/29/2018)
Now this is my type of science fiction. There were no aliens, no grotesque monsters, other world planets or space travel. Just a super unnatural futuristic twist on every day life. What can happen in the years to come? What happens when you ignore what is happening? When you refuse to become involved? When you don't add your voice and ideas and you just take things as they come? This is the science fiction that gets in your mind and sits there and brews, and bubbles, and makes you wonder ... is this possible? Unrealistic, maybe. Possible, maybe.

Thanks to the wrong people being in power, there is a divide between men and women, male and female. Striving to put the men of the family back in power, all females are required to wear a wrist band. This band counts the words that are spoken. The total amount allotted is 100 words a day. If you go over your allotment you receive a shock - a shock that gets stronger the longer you speak, with all additional words spoken.

Women who worked outside the home are now not allowed to do that - they must be homemakers. Men have no such restrictions. Men are being put back in power to run their families, to run their cities, to run the United States. There is security and cameras everywhere. It is called the Pure Movement.

Jean McClellan was a scientist. Married to Patrick with four children. She was angry, as most women were. She wanted better for her daughter, better for herself. Then the call came that changed everything. The men in power wanted her back in her lab, at any cost.

So what happens when we do not get involved? How difficult can our world become, the world of the ones we love? Do we go along to get along, or are we caving in to a power that we might not want?

Unrealistic, maybe. Possible....
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa
For the love of the cat... (8/28/2018)
Such a great little read - light, but with so much moxie. You can read this and see a light little humorous cat loving novella or you can read it as strengthful, inspiring, message-giving prose.

Narrated in part by Nana, the cat, we see life from both Satoru's view and also from the cat's. Going from an injured stray cat to one who would give his life for his master, Nana is an intricate character in the novel. Inspiration comes from the way Satoru lives his life.

This is the story of a dying man, much in love with his cat, who has not always had the fairest or best path in life handed to him. Unbeknownst to all his friends, Satoru is trying to find a forever home for his cat, Nana, while he is still able, before his young life comes to an end.

This book was translated from Japanese. I find that Japanese authors are wonderful at parables. There is always so much meaning behind their stories, and this one is no exception. (less)
Sometimes I Lie
by Alice Feeney
OMG! What did I just read?? (7/15/2018)
OMG! What did I just read?? This book pushed me to keep turning pages. And with each page I turned it became more confusing and less clear - but I could not put it down! Just when I thought I might be beginning to understand - ZAP! - another twist that took me right back to total oblivion.

There is no one you can trust in this novel. Amber tells us from the get-go that she lies, so we know we are going to face an unreliable narrator. The story is told in 3 part; Amber before a bad accident, Amber during a coma - or is it a coma?, and the third part is from childhood journals. One thing that needs to be determined is who is Amber, who is Taylor, who is Claire? Who is evil?

The ending is one of the biggest twists. I have my own theory, but I am not 100 sure. And I think that is what the author wanted. There is scuttle-butt that there is a follow up novel in the works, but that may just be rumor from those who hope to have the author clear up the twists of the ending.

It is not often that an author can so totally confuse the majority of their readers. This is not a novel to breeze through - to follow you must be attentive, because if you are not you will be totally lost. And even being attentive, does not guarantee that you will solve all the twists or the unexpected ending.
Clock Dance: A Novel
by Anne Tyler
Strong, practical and magical... (7/15/2018)
Anne Tyler happens to be one of my favorite authors. She can take a can of beans and make a whole meal out of it. Very talented author who writes about the everyday, often mundane parts of every mans life. I have always found her character development to be strong, her story line to be practical and her voice to be magical.

In this new book, Willa Drake moves through time. It starts with her in high school, at home with her family, moves to her college days and marriage, then on to the birth of her children and the loss of her husband.

Her next chapter in life is to surrogate-parent the ex-girlfriend of her oldest son, along with that ex's daughter. This is where Willa finally starts to see herself as a person and come to terms with her life, both past and present. Her new friends quietly set her on a path of self discovery and Willa starts running full steam ahead.
Our House
by Louise Candlish
a problem where ever he goes... (7/15/2018)
There is a saying that a frustrated woman will often use when it comes to understanding a man ~ 'He will be the death of me" ! Nothing better can explain this book.

We find Fi and Bram unhappily married with two sons, two careers and a wonderful expensive old home in the best of neighborhoods in London. From the outside they seem to be a stable, fairly-happy married couple with equivalent friends involved in community and school functions. But underneath there are a lot of lies and infidelities that take a toll on their marriage. They soon split up, and devise a cohabiting existence for the health and welfare of their sons.

It appears that Bram is the deceitful partner. Basically just a bad seed. Bram causes problems where ever he goes. He has been involved in a number of problems that are coming back to bite him, most of which Fi knows nothing about. One of his indiscretions leads to a major accident, that is witnessed by a man even more despicable than Bram himself.

Bram feels there is only one way out of this dilemma, but before he takes that action, he must set some things right. How does his big finale, his big sacrifice for Fi and his boys turn out?

As I said, Bram causes problems where ever he goes...
The Last Ballad
by Wiley Cash
Cash has done it again!! (6/6/2018)
Written in the true-to-life battle of workers rights, Wiley Cash does what he is so good at.

It is 1929 in Appleton County North Carolina and Ella Mae Wiggins struggles to make ends meet. Ella works in the American Mill #2 - designated mill #2 because they employee African Americans in that mill. Ella is Caucasian, and not only works with but lives in the part of town that African Americans live in. Hers is the only white family there. Likewise, she is paid less money because she works alongside African Americans. She cannot make ends met. When offered a ride to a union rally, Ella accepts. Little did she know how involved she would become as a union leader.

The story is told years later by her daughter, reveling the bitter and tragic life of her Mother. This novel outlines the early struggles of the labor movement in the Appalachian south. It was based on a true story.

This is Cash's third novel. He continues to amaze. Like the author John Hart, you impatiently wait for the next book published and cannot get it in your hands quickly enough.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
A story so well researched... (6/6/2018)
Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from the early 1900's in both New Jersey and Illinois, the transcripts and family histories, pictures and quotations, the number of documents alone had to have numbered into the thousands. Extremely well put together factual story that reads like a novel from the victims point of view. Kudos to Ms Moore.

Radium was not always known to be the deadly chemical that it is today. Many, many young women understood it to be very safe and even a wonder drug to be ingested freely. Until the young women who worked with it on a daily basis, with factories in both New Jersey and Illinois, started to become ill. Within months they lost all their teeth, their jaw bones crumbled, they started showing signs of bone cancer, losing limbs, even losing their lives. Their employer, the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), who suggested they "lip" the paint brushes they used in their job, insisted that the radium was not the cause of any of their workers ailments. It took the death of many young women and 38 years for the USRC to lawfully be deemed liable and forced to pay out benefits to any of the young women.

In the early 40's USRC factories were raised. The rubble was taken to land fills. It takes radium 1500 years to disintegrate past the point of being lethal, which means everywhere that the rubble from those buildings were spread, in both Orange, New Jersey and Ottawa Illinois and their surrounding areas, is still contaminated. Buried in the earth, under houses, close to water supplies, just waiting for the possibility to infect its next victims. In 1979 the EPA ordered the successor of USRC to start an environmental clean up in both areas. As of 2015 the radium clean up is still in process.

On the good side, this long deadly battle that our courageous fore-sisters fought brought to law the culpability of an employer being responsible for on the job safety and the beginning of the Industrial Occupational Hazards law.
Clock Dance: A Novel
by Anne Tyler
Classic Anne Tyler ... (6/6/2018)
Anne Tyler happens to be one of my favorite authors. She can take a can of beans and make a whole meal out of it. Very talented author who writes about the everyday, often mundane parts of every mans life. I have always found her character development to strong, her story line to practical and her voice to be magical.

In this new book, Willa Drake moves through time. It starts with her in high school, at home with her family, moves to her college days and marriage, then on to the birth of her children and the loss of her husband. Her next chapter in life is to surrogate-parent the ex-girlfriend of her oldest son, along with that ex's daughter. This is where Willa finally starts to see herself as a person and come to terms with her life, both past and present. Her new friends quietly set her on a path of self discovery and Willa starts running full steam ahead.
The Summer Wives
by Beatriz Williams
Island Secrets (5/23/2018)
Although I have heard that Beatriz Williams was a good author, I had never read her before. I do have a number of her books on my TBR list however. Now that I have read one of her books, all the rest of them need to be elevated to the top of my reading list. I found her character development to be superb. The story line was well thought out and flowed well, while bouncing between the years of 1930, 1951 and 1969 and alternating between Miranda Schuyler Thomas and Bianca Medeiro.

An Island of summer homes, where the rich and elite vacationed throughout each summer. Miranda was thrown into the mix when her mother married Hugh and Isobel's father. One of her first acquaintances on the Island was the son of the light house keeper, Joseph, one of the poorer working-year-round residents. As the summer draws to a close Miranda is banished from the Island and Joseph is imprisoned for murder.

Eighteen years later Miranda returns to the Island, still being dismissed by the social elite. Joseph has escaped from prison - is he back at the Island? Isobel, who had always laid claim to Joseph, is still as spoiled and remains in the inner circle of popularity. Miranda wants to reignite the love she had for Joseph and prove his innocence. It does not take long for the Island's secrets to begin to unravel.
The Mars Room: A Novel
by Rachel Kushner
Blatant Sex.... (5/23/2018)
I waited impatiently for this book to be published and obtained by my library, then I picked up the CD set. I got through 4 of 9 discs - barely.

I really wanted to like this book. I have never read Rachel Kushner before - and may never again - if this is typical of her work. However, I expected to like this book because I read and enjoy a lot of fiction and non-fiction accounts of prisons and prisoners, in both historical and current situations. And the pre-publication hype for this book was outstanding- which should have been my first warning. Had the author stayed with her primary character and wrote about her life, before, during and after prison, I would probably still be listening. I found the problem not only with the language and sexual content that Kushner used, but with random inclusion of the extra characters. The content was so blatant and in your face as to be written for a sex magazine. I am far from a prude, but there is a technique to tell that very same story but in a not-so-offending-way that was not done in this book.

This account of this story made me sad. It is a good premise and could be a good story. I just found that the author took too many liberties with my tolerance and her intended shock value ruined the pleasure I got from reading it. This is definitely not a book that I would recommend to anyone.
The Pisces
by Melissa Broder
Reader Beware... (5/23/2018)
I am usually pretty good at picking out books that satisfy me just from their synopsis. However I really missed the mark with this book. Noted, I am not a great fantasy fan, but I do read it from time to time and felt that I was ready for a good contemporary fantasy. The prime word in that sentence was "good". That is not how I found this book to be.

On every page this author dropped the "F" bomb, among other choice words. The sex in this book was overly graphic and detailed, among her many, many male conquests. The story would have been more likely appreciated in a magazine like Hustler. The first half dozen chapters were boring. The meat of the story did not start until half way through the book. The only redeemable part of the book was Dominic, her sister's foxhound, who she ended up killing.

For me, this book was just over the top. I would have put it down by chapter 6 if I had not been reading it for Hogarth Press. I don't mind a few swear words or a well placed love scene if it is appropriate to the story, but, in my opinion, this novel has gone way overboard to the point of being distasteful.

This is a book that should have the forewarning of "Reader beware."
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
by Gabrielle Zevin
Curmudgeon in a bookstore.... (4/26/2018)
Cold self-contained A J Fikry owns an island book store - a book store that is not currently profitable. Add to this, a very expensive book - his planned retirement - has been stolen. He does not especially warm up the public or to his book salesmen, however one pretty lady, Amelia, finally catches his eye. He also becomes more human when little Maya is left in his store and he takes on the duty of caring for her.
Taking a second chance on life, we see A J make changes and turn his island book store around, while also opening his heart and finding love.
Not the book I expected, but a readable light romance.
Sunburn
by Laura Lippman
Secrets abound... (4/26/2018)
Great book of secrets and suspense. Even though I don't like love stories, this romance was so much more. Two people, Polly and Adam, found each other when they were both very vulnerable. Each had their own secrets, each running from something, each working towards something, as their summer affair boiled.

Then came a death. Was it planned? Was it an accident? How does life go on? What does the future hold for Adam and Polly? A great little novel full of secrets.

Laura Lippman the author is right on with this novel. Great suspense, good character development, just the right amount of romance to carry the story. She keeps you turning the pages, reading more, wanting more, trying to decide the outcome of the story. It surprised me, and made this book very enjoyable.
The Only Story
by Julian Barnes
Another Barnes Masterpiece (4/26/2018)
In this wonderful rendition of a young man in love with an older woman Barnes once again does a masterful job. Much like the premise of The Sense of an Ending, we see the older man looking back on his youth. We see how the youth was shaped into a man by the experience of his first love. As he reminisces we see how his perspective changes throughout the years. We see his memory revisit his first love - and how he changes as time and circumstance move forward.

Julian Barnes is an excellent author. His prose is like closing your eyes and letting a mesmerizing melody float you away. You see his characters - you understand his characters - you live along side his characters. The only problem I have with a Julian Barnes novel is the last page. I am always sad when his stories end.
The French Girl
by Lexie Elliott
Who killed Severine.... (1/18/2018)
On the last night of their stay in a French farmhouse Severine was killed. Six college friends were on holiday and Severine was from the neighboring farmhouse. It took 10 years for the cold case to be reopened and to bring everyone back together. Severine's body has been found. Everyone is a suspect. However it is Kate Channing who is visited by the memories of Severine and also appears to be the prime suspect for the murder. Does she have an alibi, does any of her 5 college friends? Once they are brought back together it is obvious what each of them have to lose. Will the murderer be found before they lose everything - to focus on one person and ignore the rest may be the biggest mistake.

I found Lexie Elliot to be easy to read. Having not read her before, I found the development of her characters to be very good. The story seemed to lurk just out of sight around a dark corner as you waited for answers that were just out of reach. Her writing allowed you to follow strings randomly crisscrossing, then starting to align so that they led to one point - but is it possible to predict that point? Elliot was good at worming her way into your subconscious, until the words said and unsaid, and the series of disclosures brought you to the things that were as they always had been.
The Graybar Hotel: Stories
by Curtis Dawkins
Prison life (1/3/2018)
A book of 14 short stories, all related to prison life, written by an inmate incarcerated for murder. The stories are all fabrication taken from real life instances, played out among inmates, painting a picture of life behind bars in the desolate facade of our U.S. prisons.
The Dry
by Jane Harper
Page turner... (1/3/2018)
A strange note left on his desk takes Federal Agent Aaron Falk back to his home town, one he left 20 years prior on a bad note. He finds that his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, along with Luke's wife and son were murdered. The town wants to write it off as a murder/suicide due to the effects of the drought and appalling conditions the town has weathered in the last few years. The Hadlers are not so sure. Working with the one local law enforcement officer that also has questions - Aaron sets off to investigate this tragic situation. But in doing so, it brings back all the memories that Aaron has run from - and all the enemies that drove Aaron and his father out of town initially. The suicide, if it really was, of a girl that Aaron liked when he was a teenager.
I liked this book from page one. It kept me interested and wanting to turn the page. Twists and turns of all dimensions kept closing in on the truth. Good writing, well planned story, and happily just book one and the beginning of a series.
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The Winter Soldier
by Daniel Mason

A story of war and medicine, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and of the mistakes we make.

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