Reviews by Joan P. (Owego, NY)

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Travelers: A Novel
by Helon Habila
Travelers (5/5/2019)
Interesting book. It is divided into six books. Each could be a stand alone short story and it took me awhile to find the thread that tied it all together. The book tells of immigrants that come to Europe from Africa. Some come for education, some for work, and many come seeking asylum from disastrous wars and poverty. The characters are compelling. The stories are horrifying. We see these people on tv and read about them every day. Travelers is heartbreaking and depressing but now I truly understand the plight of these human beings.
The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel
by Jeanne Mackin
The Last Collection (2/21/2019)
I found this an interesting story about the rivalry between two famous couturiers in the days before Paris fell to the Germans in WWII. It captures the sense of foreboding while Parisians waited for the inevitable. I would have rated it higher if the writing had been better. The narrator was an artist and seemed to need a color before every noun. Annoying and heavy handed. The fictional love stories seemed contrived and in some cases unbelievable. What she did well was capture a time and culture and a Paris that will never be the same.
House of Stone
by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
House of Stone (12/7/2018)
I have mixed feelings about this book. The history of Zimbabwe is marked with bloodshed and violence and this novel explains the many factions involved in the fight for independence. Told by the people who lived this nightmare, it was very intriguing. The main characters were trying to forget the past but Zamani, the narrator, used scheming and manipulation to find the past hoping to have a hi story of his own. A good premise but I found it difficult and confusing with flashbacks, too many individual stories and a multitude of minor characters. It was a wordy mixture of modern cliches, classical, mythological, religious references and rambling sentences. Not my cup of tea.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
by Anissa Gray
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls (10/7/2018)
What is really a fascinating plot is made even better by great characters. They are troubled people and the author skillfully shows the roots,of their dysfunction.

Althea and Porter are sent to jail when their daughter, Kim, turns them in for fraud. Family is called on to care for teenaged Kim and her twin, Little Vi. The past continues to influence the present. A dark story that ends with hope for the future.

This is a debut novel that has made me a fan. I look forward to Anissa Gray's next book. This would make an excellent book club selection.
Sold on a Monday
by Kristina McMorris
Sold On a Monday (8/3/2018)
A depression-era news photo of two children with a "For Sale" was a picture that the author could not erase from her memory. McMorris used it to write a fascinating novel about what might have happened to these children. Lots of twists and turns and just when you think you have figured out what is going to happen, something happens to upset your theory. As a backdrop to the main plot you get a look at a time when, children worked in coal mines, unwed mothers were shunned, newspapers were thriving, and you had to crank your car to start it. It was a terrible time in America but makes a great read.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel
The Traveling Cat Chronicals (5/1/2018)
This is really the story of Satoru, a Japanese man, told by his loving cat, Nana. Saturn can no longer care for Nana so he makes visits to old friends to find a suitable home for the cat. Each friendship reveals much about what a good man Satoru is and we discover that he has always made others happy even though he has had a hard life. Nana interacts with other animals and remarks about the humans at each stop. He is very insightful and funny. It gives us a look at what our animals think about us. Anyone that has a beloved pet will appreciate this book and cat lovers will nod and say, "I knew they were smarter than dogs."
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Place For Us (3/23/2018)
This is one of the best books that I have read in years. I'm no fan of flashbacks or multiple narrators but this author makes it work. We are introduced to a religious Islamic family in America, Layla, Rafiq, and their children, Hadia, Huda, and Amar. Piece by piece Mirza encapsulates a time, place and event that builds a character. We see strict gender and social rules of a religion that expects much of its adherents. I learned a lot but was also captured by the beautiful, thoughtful writing telling an intriguing tale of family and how we struggle to understand and love one another through many difficulties. I'm pretty stingy with my stars but I would give this book six stars if I could.
French Exit
by Patrick deWitt
French Exit (1/29/2018)
All I could think as I read this was, what a whacky book! It's reminiscent of the 1930s black and white, high society movies. After more thought, I realized how clever De Witt was to bring all these interesting characters together to tell a crazy story about the desperation of people striving to keep up appearances and adapt to altered circumstances. Frances Price has been shunned by New York society because she neglected to report her husband's death and went skiing. She and her son are broke and move to a friend's apartment in Paris along with Little Frank, a cat that houses the spirit of her dead husband. After Little Frank's disappearance, new characters are introduced and old characters reappear. Relationships are explored leading to the final resolution to Frances's problems. I'd like to read more about these people. All in all a darkly funny book.
Our Lady of the Prairie
by Thisbe Nissen
Our Lady of the Prairie (11/3/2017)
This book has more plot lines than most trilogies. Each, if fully explored would make a book. The main story concerns Phillipa who leaves her husband of 26 years for a colleague, Lucius. Phillipa and Michael have raised a I dysfunctional daughter, Ginnie, who seems to have found happiness with a lapsed Amish boy, Silas. Their wedding takes place during a tornado. Ginnie's friends Linda and Randall have a big role in getting the wedding performed. They are sponsor and sponsee in NA and have their own story. Michael's mother, Bernadette, has no discernible past and says that Michael's father died in WWII. Throw in the stories of Regina and Creamer, people met at the Gas Stop Bar. The book explores mid-life confusion, bulimia, a Presidential campaign angst, pro-life and pro-choice arguments, and even Nazi collaborators in WWII. I found bright spots in the writing and even passages that were memorable, but I felt that there were too many side trips that that were distractions from the main plot.
Stay with Me
by Ayobami Adebayo
Stay With Me (8/10/2017)
The constant political instability in Nigeria is the backdrop to this story of love and secrets. Akin, the husband, and Yijeda, the wife, face infertility, family pressures, and dark secrets that finally force them apart. I am always fascinated with cultures that blend the old ways with modern life in a seamless way. Yejida tries potions and prayers to no avail. She is a strong woman that seems destined to be alone, no parents, no children, no husband. There are interesting secondary characters that flesh out the narrative.
I really enjoyed this book and had a hard time writing this review without revealing the plot. Look beyond the good story and you will find universal fears, foibles and feelings. A great debut novel.
The Almost Sisters
by Joshilyn Jackson
Almost Sisters (5/4/2017)
No Gimmicks! No changing narrators! No flashbacks! "Almost Sisters" is a good story beautifully written. Leia Birch is confronted with two problems to begin the book. She finds herself pregnant as a result of a one time encounter with a man she met at a conference and her beloved grandmother has been acting strangely and decisions have to be made for her future. Add in the marital problems of her step sister with whom she has a bumpy relationship since childhood. If that seems like enough, it isn't. You're in for many surprises. She explores the relationships between fathers and daughters and how the future is affected by them. Another theme becomes evident as the book is ending. It confronts race relations in what Jackson calls " the second south". Of course the main theme is how " almost sisters" have bonds that can't be broken. I will be putting this author's novels on my must read list.
The Book of Summer
by Michelle Gable
The Book of Summer (3/7/2017)
Family sagas are my favorites and so I really enjoyed. "The Book of Summer". I'm not a great fan of the narrative switching between the past and present but this time it worked for me. The seeds of the present are planted in the past and produced some " aha moments". The characters are engaging and the house is as much a character as the family. It's a place of refuge that is disappearing forcing the family to honestly face the future. I had one negative reaction. The use of slang in the 40s sections was gratingly false. It's my era and it's not authentic or necessary. A bit of history, gender identity, ecology, and romance make this a book with something for everyone.
I
Extraordinary Adventures
by Daniel Wallace
Extra-ordinary Adventure (2/14/2017)
Edsel Bronfman is different and I didn't quite believe he could be real for awhile. The result of a one night stand and raised by a single mother who is now slipping into dementia, he finds himself at 34, alone and leading a routine life. One phone call changes that. He wins an all expense paid trip to Florida for a time share presentation. Two catches shape the story. He must have a companion and there is a time limit. Then crazy things begin to happen and Bronfman starts to discover himself. This is a coming of age story it can happen anytime in your life. I found the book slow going for the first half of the book and then I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
Caught in the Revolution (10/19/2016)
I found this book a pleasant surprise. It made clear a very confusing and complicated time in history. By culling the experiences of the Petrograd ex-patriot community, through old letters and diaries, we got a first hand account of the daily events during the months leading up to the October revolt and the actual takeover. It made clear the many factions opposing one another and how the Bolsheviks a well organized minority became the ultimate winners. The actual words of the people who were there made history come alive.
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes
by Susan Bishop Crispell
The Secret Ingredient in Pies (6/30/2016)
The Secret Ingredient in Pies is a love story, romantic and familial, with more than a little magic tossed in. Too many pies, wishes and secrets mixed in with predicable characters make this an easy summer read. This was an interesting and creative book but not my cup of tea. A perfect beach book.
The Children
by Ann Leary
The Children (4/30/2016)
The children are all grown up. They are the two girls, Sally and Charlotte, that Joan brought to the marriage and Perry and Spin that came with Whit. Add to the group, Everette, the caretaker's son. You might say that Lakeside Cottage and Holden, the private school, are almost minor characters.
The story takes place after Whit's death. His will ensures that Lakeside Cottage will belong to his boys. Joan has been permitted to continue to live there. Sally visits often and Chalotte lives there and writes a blog and rarely leaves the grounds. Spin brings his fiancée, Laurel, home to meet the family. He is a teacher at Holden and met Laurel while skiing. As Laurel gets to know the family we see that there is another side to their seemingly ideal childhood.
Ann Leary is skilled at character development and I especially liked frugal, self centered Joan. She enjoyed telling about her glorious youth and that she ran five miles a day. An interesting minor character is "Mr Clean" who would break and enter cottages and never steal a thing but did a little cleaning while there.
I'm very stingy with my stars but believe this is a solid four. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish and will pass it on to a friend today. This is a good book club book as each character would make a good discussion.
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson
The Opposite of Everyone (11/28/2015)
I am an impatient reader and always feel annoyed when a plot thread is interrupted for a flashback or in this case a mythological tale. Joshilyn Jackson is a skilled writer and in her hands this device is well done and makes sense. This was the best way to explain the characters and how their history made them who they are. Having taught twelve year olds for close to fifty years, I never quite understood the bond between a child and a dysfunctional parent. Kai, the mother, kept her children, Paula the angry one, Julian the one she gave away, and the child she left behind when she died, tied to her with her great love. This is a great book for book clubs. There is a lot to discuss.
Fear of Dying
by Erica Jong
Fear of Dying (4/29/2015)
Having read "Fear of Flying" as a young woman, I was anxious to see if Erica Jong had interesting insights on the loss of youth and dying. She does. As we age we deal with the death of our parents and ultimately with our own mortality. I found some parts of the book much like the experiences we all have facing life's challenges, and then there were some parts I found outrageous and typically the old sexual Erica. As with all of her writing, you are left with food for thought.
Make Your Home Among Strangers
by Jennine Capó Crucet
Make Your Home Among Strangers (4/7/2015)
I now have a better understanding of what it feels like to be a second generation Cuban in America. Lizet is torn between her personal ambition and loyalty to her cultural heritage. She is a scholarship student at a prestigious college in upstate New York. She has to adjust to cold weather and academic problems due to her inadequate preparation for higher education. Back in Little Havana her family is broken and her mother has become involved as an activist in the case of Elia Hernandez. This is obviously the Elian Gonzalez controversy from fourteen years ago. How Lizet deals with her new life makes an interesting story.
Her Name Is Rose
by Christine Breen
Her Name Is Rose (1/29/2015)
Iris is having a very hard time. She lost her husband, her job and has newly discovered health problems. After this depressing, slow start, "Her Name Is Rose " takes off. Because of a death bed promise to her husband, Iris tries to find her adopted daughter's birth mother. Rose, a talented violinist who is studying in London, was born in Ireland to an American mother. Iris has reason to believe that she will find her living in Boston. The story tells of the search and her experiences in America and finally concludes back in Ireland. This is a warm story and I cared what became of Rose and Iris. My book club would enjoy this book
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