Reviews by Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel
Bittersweet tale of friendship (5/14/2018)
I knew when I started this book that I would probably be in tears at some point in time. I have always had a cat or two and recognized many of the character traits in the main feline character, Nana. His wry, sometimes self-serving view of life, humans, dogs, and friendship is both hilarious and touching. He and his human, Saturo, embark on a journey that will explore, test, and define the bonds of friendship, trust, and devotion. During that journey, both of them will make new discoveries about themselves. Translated from the original Japanese novel, this story will break your heart and at the same time reaffirm your faith in humanity.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
In search of self in the midst of war (2/13/2018)
This searing and personal account of the war in Rwanda reveals much more than just a war-torn, conflicted country. It told the story of a child who lost her family, her identity, and her childhood. For six years Clemantine and her sister Claire moved from one refugee camp to another, seeking shelter but finding only hunger, disease, and inhumane treatment. Claire, the oldest child in the family, was already certain of who she was and what she could do. Clemantine was only six, and her reaction to chaos of war was, in her own words, "I was just a feather, molted and mangled, drifting through space." Throughout the book, told in alternating stories of refugee camps in Africa and living as an immigrant in affluent American suburbs as a foster child, the reader comes to realize that even as an adult, successful American citizen, Clemantine has yet to come to a place in her life where all the broken pieces fit together as a whole. Her story is one that is blisteringly ugly and yet at the same time triumphant and proud. This is a must read.
Our Lady of the Prairie
by Thisbe Nissen
A whirlwind of a story (11/1/2017)
I have to admit that it took me a while to get into this book. The author relates every thought that passes through the main character's head. Phillipa is constantly thinking, weighing, supposing, and imagining. It must be exhausting to be Phillipa. Having said that, the author does draw you into the midlife crisis Phil is experiencing and weaves that into her complicated family life with her estranged husband, unstable daughter, bitter mother-in-law and the irresistible lover with whom she fell madly, inexplicably in love with at first glance. Once I got used to the fast pace and the barrage of mental processes, I realized that there are parts of the story that every reader to can relate to. Who among us does not fantasize about escaping to Paris for a romantic interlude? Don't all of us wish for a solid, stable life for our children and a close circle of friends? Phil is a good mom and a good friend, but it took a whirlwind of events to bring her to that realization. Fasten your seatbelts for the ride! There are weddings, funerals, road trips, colorful characters, and vivid slices of life in store for you with this book.
Never Coming Back
by Alison McGhee
A straight to the heart read... (9/15/2017)
Words loom large in this story, words in books, song lyrics, and in recalled conversations, yet the author writes sparingly, drawing the plot out slowly, adding layer after layer. The story is both simple and complicated because that's how real life is. Clara Winter has come home to upstate NY to care for her mother, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Clara's relationship with her mother has always been complicated, and now she realizes she is losing someone she never really knew and the time for answers is almost gone because of her mother's illness. In addition, Clara needs answers to questions about her own life and loves, and the year she spends at her cabin by herself is the beginning of a long journey inside her own heart and head, searching for answers. The story is beautifully, powerfully written, the characters are well drawn, and I closed the book with a sigh and more than a few tears. I will be recommending this book to all my friends.
The Almost Sisters
by Joshilyn Jackson
Outstanding read! (5/14/2017)
Life can be complicated, messy, and amazing. Add that to life in a small Southern town, and you have all the ingredients for a riveting story. The social hierarchies, the thinly veiled prejudice, and the clan-like family loyalties are revealed with humor and love. The main character, Leia, rushes to the aid of her beloved grandmother, who has exhibited signs of dementia in a most embarrassing social setting. Leia arrives in Birchfield with her own burdens of deadlines and an unplanned pregnancy from a one night stand. Dealing with race relations, family secrets, and internal struggles may not sound uplifting, but the story is richly told, and you find yourself rooting for all the family members and the town citizens as they come to grips with new realities. The author created fully fleshed out characters and a sturdy storyline. I found myself cheering them on as they try to find the real meaning of family and what it means to truly love someone.
The Book of Summer
by Michelle Gable
A compelling read (3/9/2017)
I have been always been a fan of books about close-knit communities, and this story about a Nantucket beach town fits the bill. The story spans several generations, from pre-WWII to the present. The narrative switches back and forth during the years by way of a guest book started by the owners of Cliff House. Various family members and guests form the backbone of the story as Cliff House draws near to its final days as the family residence. Beach erosion is claiming the property, and Bess, the granddaughter of the original owners, comes home to evacuate her mother from the house before it falls into the sea. The characters are lively and interesting, and the story is packed with intimate details of the family's history. The book held my interest all the way through to a satisfying conclusion.
The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry
A hugely entertaining read! (2/15/2017)
The Essex Serpent has something for every reader. It is a melange of mystery, historical fiction, love story, and Victorian period piece. The characters are complex yet engaging, and the reader is easily swept up into their struggles and triumphs. I found myself rooting for Cora as she evolved from abused wife to independent, joyous woman. This book is a definite must read for anyone looking for a well-told tale that is rich in atmosphere and multi-layered story lines.
Before the War
by Fay Weldon
A mixed bag (11/1/2016)
As character driven as I usually am, I find it hard to admit that I enjoyed a book whose characters were, as a whole, unlikable. The book, Before the War, is narrated, rather than told from one character's point of view, and that device was a bit off-putting in the beginning. The reader is informed in the first few pages that the main character will die withing the year. I did like Vivian, referred to as "the giantess." The story takes place between 1922 and 1939, and Vivian, nearly six feet tall, frumpy, and highly intelligent, is trying to make a way for herself at in a time period not kind to women such as she. She decides that she is marriageable only because she is wealthy, and proposes to someone who will see the advantage to both parties if he accepts, and he does. Poor Vivian, already pregnant by someone else, dies in childbirth.

The rest of the story involves a cast of characters with few, if any, redeeming characteristics. The skill of the author in fleshing out these people and telling the rest of Vivian's story is all that saves the book, in my opinion. I did appreciate the dry humor and observations about human character. Life today is different in appearance, but these people exist today in every level of society. I doubt this book will appeal to many readers, but I did like the writing.
North of Crazy: A Memoir
by Neltje
Money can't buy happiness... (6/10/2016)
North of Crazy was not an easy read for several reasons. The setting, moving between a plantation and the East coast, sounded almost like something out of the Great Gatsby era, with incredibly wealthy lifestyles and very unhappy people. Neltje was born into a life of privilege as far as money and status as a Doubleday publishing heir were concerned, but had an incredibly unhappy childhood due to alcoholic parents who clearly favored her brother, Nelson. Add sexual abuse by a family friend to the mix and you have all the makings of years of psychiatric counseling. I confess that reading about her early life was very difficult, but once she started standing up for herself I really got into the story. She deserves a lot of credit for creating a meaningful life as a mother, artist, and entrepreneur. The story has meaning, but is related in a somewhat disjointed style.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
by Phaedra Patrick
Utterly charming story... (3/30/2016)
There's just no way to not say that The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is totally and utterly charming. Arthur Pepper has spent a year of his life mourning the death of his wife. After spending that year locked in grief and mind-numbing routine tasks, he marks the anniversary of her passing by finally cleaning her closets and going through her belongings. A gold charm bracelet comes to light, one that Arthur has no recollection his wife ever owning or wearing. His curiosity propels him out of the gray routine of the previous year and launches him into a series of adventures that will change him forever. Each charm holds a key to an aspect of his wife's life before she became Mrs. Arthur Pepper, and each one takes him to places he has never been before, emotionally and physically. The author has created people you will want to meet , and you can't help but cheer for Arthur as he puts the pieces of the puzzle. A delightful read!
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir
by Ruth Wariner
A story of triumph over circumstances (11/15/2015)
This was a very personal account of a difficult, hardscrabble childhood spent in a polygamist community in Mexico. As a woman, it was hard for me to read about a life of being subjected to the whims of a husband and a church whose beliefs include multiple wives, as many children as you can bear, and complete obedience to both. We see this lifestyle through the eyes of young Ruth. When the story begins, Ruth states that she was her mother's fourth child and her father's thirty-ninth. Her mother was his fifth wife. This offshoot of the Mormon church believed that in order to reach the highest level of heaven, a man had to have at least two wives. Women who married polygamists were to have as many children as they could so they could become goddesses. In the meantime, the people in this community lived in poverty in houses without electricity or bathrooms. Ruth tells her story with honesty and love, but the reader's heart breaks for her and her siblings. Her survival and her ability to triumph over adversity make this gritty account shine with hope for the human heart and spirit.
Broken Promise: A Thriller
by Linwood Barclay
An eminently readable mystery (7/15/2015)
Broken Promise is the first book I have read by Linwood Barclay, but it won"t be the last. I have always been more than a little character driven in my reading choices, and this author creates true to life, two-dimensional people. Real people are rarely all good or all bad, and Barclay does a masterful job of making the reader care about the good guys as well as feel some sympathy for the impulses that drive the bad guys. The well constructed plot progresses at a steady pace and comes to a realistic conclusion. Promises are often broken, but so are people and dreams. I look forward to more stories about this little town and its inhabitants.
A Good Family
by Erik Fassnacht
Great debut book (5/6/2015)
This was an excellent book! When I first started reading, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy bumbling but ever hopeful Barkley, but it wasn't long before I was rooting for him as he tries to find a job and a girlfriend. Barkley is the youngest member of a shattered family. Dad is a driven man who left his family to pursue the life he feels he is missing, Mom lives in a Zoloft cocoon, and big brother Charlie is fresh from Afghanistan, with a PSTD he is trying to face down. Doesn't sound promising? The story moves from character to character as each tries to find their way out of what appears to be a downward spiral. The fact the the author is successful in making us care about these people is evidence of his talent as a writer. The story is told with humor, lively dialogue, and compassion. I will be recommending it to friends.
The Book of Speculation
by Erika Swyler
A story of melancholy and magic (4/4/2015)
This is a story of magic, told slowly, layer by layer, alternately between the past and the present. Simon and his sister Enola are the only surviving members of his family. Enola works in a circus telling fortunes and Simon is a librarian in a small coastal town, living in a dilapidated house built in the 1700s. Simon's mother committed suicide by drowning, and his dad died of an aneurysm not long after. Simon describes his family as a sad family, perhaps cursed, a fear given new life when a bookseller sends hm an old book that mentions Simon's grandmother. Simon is launched into an investigation of the history of his mother's family to find out if he can keep his sister from meeting the same fate as their mother. It is a story of discovery, of tangled family lines, and ultimately of redemption. I would have given it 5 stars, but the plot moved very slowly until the reader had enough clues to follow the story. Some readers may not want to stick around that long. It is a marvelous, magical story peopled with quirky characters and definitely worth reading.
Her Name Is Rose
by Christine Breen
Really enjoyable (2/24/2015)
I found this book to be eminently readable. The theme of love lost and found is told in the story of Iris Bowen, a widow and mother of an adopted daughter, Rose. Iris had made a promise to her dying husband that she would try to locate Rose's birth mother so that Rose would still have a family should anything happen to Iris. Iris seems to bury that promise with her husband until a suspicious mammogram causes her to face it once again. The story moves from Ireland to Boston as Iris attempts to carry out her promise. The characters are all likable and interesting, although I do think the female characters fared better than their male counterparts. I also think the ending did not have to be quite as tidy as the author seemed compelled to make it. A good read and a good story, just the the same. The author does an excellent job of portraying Iris's conflicting emotions.
The Same Sky
by Amanda Eyre Ward
The Same Sky (11/4/2014)
While told in two voices, the story of Alice and Carla tells the same story, a tale of love and loss, of hopes and dreams. Alice is trying to make a life for herself and her husband that centers around starting a business and dealing with the heartbreak of infertility. Carla, as an adolescent, lives in desperate poverty with her younger brother and grandmother in Guatemala after her mother illegally immigrates to the U.S. in order to provide for her family. Their lives will eventually intersect as they are tested to limits that will define and shape the reality of their dreams. The author skillfully draws the reader into both lives as she weaves the story line around their trials and joys. The topic of illegal immigration is given a face and a story readers won't soon forget.
The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel
by Michel Faber
Strange new things is an accurate description (8/31/2014)
This hefty book is less about science fiction than it is about relationships.Yes, most of the action does take place on another planet, but that is not the real focus of the book. Peter is sent to minister to the Oasans, the inhabitants of a planet being colonized ostensibly for mining and exploration. He isn't sure why he is chosen or what he is expected to do. The story is told in a slow, contemplative style, giving the reader plenty of time to discover who Peter is and what makes him tick, as well as the rest of the crew and the Oasans. We see Peter start to lose himself as he immerses in the culture of Oasis, teaching them the Bible, known to the Oasans as the Book of Strange New Things. While we can see and hear Peter's thoughts and musings, we only get to read about his wife in her almost daily letters to him. Her world is falling apart as Peter's is seeming to come together, and this is the tension on the story. I wish I could have known more about Bea, which is why I did not give the book five stars. I did enjoy it. The writing is excellent, and the reader is made to feel for the characters and the problems associated with distance, relationships, and faith. There are mysteries on the planet of Oasis, not all of which are understood or solved.
That Summer
by Lauren Willig
Intriguing premise (4/8/2014)
I started reading That Summer and promptly got hooked, finishing it in just a couple of days. The story is told through the eyes of two different women, both living in the same house but in two different time periods. Julia inherits the house in England in 2009 from her deceased mother's aunt, and since she is between jobs, she decides to spend the summer checking it out. Imogene, the other character, moves into the house in 1849 when she marries a widower, following a short courtship and the death of her father.

Both of these women are likable, believable people, not your usual impossibly perfect and beautiful heroines. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them as they go went through the necessary and sometimes painful process of coming into their own. The book engages the reader all the way to an ending that perhaps could have profited by a little more explanation. If you like a mix of mystery, romance, and history, with a soupcon of art thrown in for good measure, then you will enjoy this book.
Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
by Kelly Corrigan
A little more glue, perhaps? (12/1/2013)
There isn't a woman alive who does not have stories to tell about her relationship with her mother. I was prepared to sympathize with the author as she discovered through life experiences just how much of her mother she had internalized without knowing it. I know I have been amazed at the number of times I have opened my mouth to say something and out popped my mother.

The author, Kelly Corrigan, goes on an extended trip to Australia and finds herself needing a job to make ends meet. She takes a job as a nanny, and in the process of caring for three motherless children, finds herself relating more and more to the mother with whom she thought she had nothing in common. It was a an easy read, and I did enjoy it, but I found myself looking for a little more internal conflict along the way. I felt like the full realization of her relationship to her mother did not occur until she herself was a mother, much later after her time in Australia.
Last Train to Istanbul
by Ayse Kulin
A Story of Courage (9/13/2013)
Last Train to Istanbul is a story of courage, but not the blockbuster kind Hollywood likes to portray. It is the quiet courage of convictions born of love, patriotism, and compassion. The story unfolds slowly and thoughtfully, laying the groundwork for a satisfying conclusion. The careful layering of relationships, both personal and political, is part of the essential framework.
Turkey, strategically placed, is being pressured by the Allies and by Germany to choose sides in the early days of WWII. Macit is an official in the government's general staff and attend endless meetings as Turkey tries to remain neutral. His wife Sahiba grieves over the estrangement of her sister Selva, who, against her Muslim family's wishes, marries a Turkish Jew and moves to Paris. Selva and her husband Rafe move from Paris to Marsielle to try to escape the ever tightening noose being drawn by the Gestapo. The fate of all Turkish citizens, Jews and Muslim, hangs in the balance as Hitler moves farther into France.
The main characters in this story are believable and solid. Some you will identify with more than others, but all play a part in developing the story. I learned a lot about the people of Turkey and how they took care of all their citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, during WWII.
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