Reviews by lani

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Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao
a gut wrenching read (2/13/2018)
Being born a girl, and into a poor Indian caste, is the unfortunate fate of two girls who meet when Poornima's father hires Savitha to help weave saris after the death of his wife. With Savitha, Poornima finds a love and sisterly bond that totally encompasses her life and makes her narrow existence less confining. However, Savitha runs away when an atrocity is committed against her, and Poornima's world turns into a laser beam focus to try to find her friend. This search will take her within India and to the United States, focusing on an underbelly of society that represents the scorched earth of humanity. However, what rises above all of this is the steadfast belief that the two of them are stronger together and that their fierce love of one another will have some meaning in this world. Warning though..this is not for the faint of heart. Told in brutal stark truths, yet with an underlying simplicity , this novel of friendship, power vs impotence, will burn deeply in your soul.
Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover
Family pathology and hope for the future (2/5/2018)
What an accomplished novel: superb execution, raw unflinching dialogue, impressive character descriptions,and unrelenting tension. I am not sure there is going to be a better memoir in all of 2018. In Westover's searing novel, and I can't use hyperbole enough, she discusses her Mormon survivalist's family who refuse to vaccinate their 7 children, send them to public schools, or participate in anything that looks like an arm of the government. The children all have to help on the farm working with heavy machinery, scrapping for parts and enduring pain from accidents- the latter being the Lord's will. Early in Tara's life, her mother becomes a midwife and then develops oils and herb infusions to treat mishaps, as doctors and hospitals were mostly verboten. As the children were rarely exposed to others their age, they had no other frame of reference to know that their way of life was not the norm. Violence between one of the brothers and the author was downright scary, more so as the parents defended his actions and looked the other way. The story continues to unfold as Mary begins to find a sense of self, learning to read and write, going on to college and even securing a prestigious Gates scholarship. When one views the trajectory of her insular life to her final accomplishments, one can only shake his/her head in disbelief. From beginning to end this is a riveting, unwavering look at the power of family to define identity, and to explore the determinants of breaking free from deleterious bonds.Settle in and be prepared to be swept off your feet with this austere desolate novel that will scorch and penetrate your soul...and don't forget concurrently to be amazed!
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Clemantine Wamariya
Painful, riveting and IMPORTANT (2/2/2018)
Powerful, powerful novel painted with shades of raw urgency that propelled me to read this in two days. Clementine and her older sister Clara,born into a middle class family in Rwanda, were sucked from their family's bosom due to the vile nature of war and internecine conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis. The next several years they spent on the run from country to country and from one refugee camp to another finally ending up in the United States,hoping this was the land of the American dream. What makes this book different from all other refugee books is the riveting dialogue and self exploration that accompanies Clementine's growth as she lands in a foster care's family in Chicago and eventually on to Yale as a undergraduate. It was eye opening to observe the circumstances that formed her personality, to contemplate the horrors that she underwent each and every day, and to be humbled by my own insensitivity as to how questions might have been perceived as she tried to claw her way towards her own humanity. I cannot recommend this enough!
White Houses
by Amy Bloom
an inflamed passion (1/29/2018)
Historical fiction has the ability to allow one to imagine the underpinnings of a relationship while focusing on real historical events or characters. Amy Bloom has concentrated on Roosevelt's relationship with Lorena Hickok which historians still disagree as to the erotic nature of their relationship. When Doris Fabor was allowed to look, however, at the letters between these women she felt that is was undeniable as to their deep rooted physical love for one another. The story is told from Hickok's point of view, beginning with her sharing her early childhood abusive days with her family, and leaving home at the age of 14. How much of her circus days were real or fictionalized I cannot say as I found no evidence researching this area. However, her "imagined" recount of this time was vivid and engaging, but I became less interested as the book wore on feeling it more fluffy and needing more substance than their whispers to one another. More of a character study than a plot driven novel although Bloom does take us through Roosevelt's passion about social injustice, civil rights and devotion to encouraging Americans to stand up for its ideals of humanity and tolerance but does not go into any depth in this matter. Hickok's acclaimed career as a newspaper reporter, her job as the chief investigator of FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) and her devotion to Eleanor were explored but I never really engaged or grew to care about the characters. However, I left wanting to read more and have since purchased further biographies. This fictionalized account is a good headway to read about their historical lives for those we feel the need to explore further.
Only Child
by Rhiannon Navin
A unique voice, unfortunately timely (1/28/2018)
Can my eyes produce any more tears for this heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting story of a family consumed by a school shooting? Wise beyond his 6 year old self, Zach narrates this story in a voice so authentic, I could feel his pain as his world is torn asunder from the death of his 9 and a half year old older brother.While his mother strikes out with anger at the world and the family of the killer, she dissociates her self from her family and husband. Her husband has a secret of his own and buries himself in his work while trying to be supportive of Zach at the same time. And there is Zach..the hurting child caught in the middle...trying to make sense of something which doesn't make any sense. Through the books he reads, he tries to find the secrets of happiness and with it bring his family together and teach them the true meaning of compassion. There have been many books about school shootings lately much to my chagrin, but Zach is a special character whose voice has a lot to teach us all. Highly highly recommend.
Anatomy of a Scandal
by Sarah Vaughan
legal thriller (1/1/2018)
Brilliant...brilliant...brilliant...A wonderful courtroom drama set in England that was not only erudite but very suspenseful in terms of courtroom logistics. Reading it I felt I was involved in a real court room drama and was holding my breath for the final verdict. There are many words peculiar to the British language but it was easy to decipher their meaning from the overall context.
The story begins with the elucidation of the stories behind James, a sauve British minister, his adoring wife Sophie, whom he met in college and Kate, the lawyer who was hired to prosecute a rape case against James. Told mostly in alternating chapters between Kate and Sophie, we peer back into their college days when they all attended the same college and then to the present day. Questions arise as to who is the most truthful, and the power of the barrister 's persuasive abilities to influence the final outcome of the jury. Does truth really matter? Ethics play into the role as well, as well as individual responsibility to ferret out the truth in spite of moral dilemmas. I truly loved this book and will recommend this to anyone who is looking for a terrifically written and satisfying book.
The Girls in the Picture
by Melanie Benjamin
Surreptitious delight (12/22/2017)
A fascinating look at still movies and beyond through the lens of Mary Pickford and Frances Marion from the 1914-1969. How prescient of Benjamin to examine the sexual misconduct and the treatment of women as second class citizens in the movie industry. With the current climate, this could not have come at a more opportune moment. I love when a novel engages you but also teaches you about a pivotal time in the Hollywood scene, as well as the effects of war on the industry as well. But mostly this is a story of two women's friendship, with power imbalances and balances.Admittedly, I knew nothing about Frances Marion and was astonished at how much she had created in her life, while Mary Pickford's name seems to have stood the test of time. This engaging book should hook many a woman who loves romance, friendship, movies and women's rights...I think that covers a large swath of the female race.
The Wife Between Us
by Sarah Pekkanen, Greer Hendricks
Assume Nothing (12/17/2017)
When a book makes you literally gasp midway, you can bet that you have your hands on a winner. The twists and turns in this novel were totally unpredictable and enthralling. Vanessa Thompson's ex is about to be married to another woman. She has been left with nothing after a seemingly blissful marriage complete with travel, expensive clothes and jewelry. Now she lives with her maiden aunt and has a job at Saks Fifth Avenue. She begins to stalk the woman to try to convince her to not marry him. However, NOTHING is like it seems. The novel keeps turning itself on its head with great intrigue of lies, duplicity and cheating...A perfect way to start off the new year with a terrific read.
The Chalk Man
by C. J. Tudor
The terrors of childhood (11/26/2017)
A slow burner mystery that was way different from my usual read. The author has a very sound grasp of the thoughts and behaviors of 12 year old boys and has put her expertise to good use in this novel. The construction of different chapters that alternated between 1986 and 2016 were expertly tied together to provide a smooth flow yet made one anxious to find out more of the story from the different perspectives. How can you not be intrigued when the first sentence of a book starts out with the sentence, "The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves." Eddie, the main figure in the novel, has developed a secret code where he and his friends use chalk figures in different color chalks to designate private messages to one another, but the chalk drawings get confusing when they come upon a body severed into parts. Flash to 2016, when Eddie gets a drawing of a chalk figure in the mail and realizes it is time to put the past front and center and confront the mysteries of yesteryear. The mystery pulled me in but it was the earnest, honest voices that got my vote.
The Immortalists: A Novel
by Chloe Benjamin
A life of quandary (11/24/2017)
A fascinating read that provoked a lot of discussion with my friends regarding the main premise. If you were offered the knowledge of the date of your death, would that information be welcome or despised? Four young children from the lower East Side in NYC visit a gypsy fortune teller who provides them with this information. How that knowledge influences each child becomes a focus by the author devoting a section to each character. She has done an amazing amount of research as each character is besotted by a different issue. Even the descriptive geography of San Francisco resonated as I had lived there and experienced the accuracy of the locations and atmosphere during that era. I did get bogged down in the very last section but I still say that one should really experience this unique novel with a unique premise. Not only will you get a fascinating story, but you will truly learn a great deal through each different character's quandary.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
by Jessica Bruder
Disturbing account of the invisibles (10/27/2017)
Lately, I have been engrossed at looking at books that try to help me make sense of the desperate world we are currently living in. Nomadland is a descriptive non fiction account of what has happened to seniors in their 60’s or 70’s who have held decent jobs, but due to downsizing ,loss of income or other factors, may have lost their jobs necessitating some crucial decisions. Many have opted to not be house poor and have become “nomads” seeking seasonal work across the country, living in campgrounds or RV parks. When it is a choice between putting food on the table, and living in a home that consumes what little income they have, the decisions become clear. But what a decision to undertake, forced to continue working for minimum wage with no security, simply because they cannot afford to retire. This was a very disturbing account of a section of society that too often is invisible.
Y is for Yesterday: A Kinsey Millhone Novel
by Sue Grafton
Sex, drugs and videotape (10/24/2017)
What is going to happen after Grafton finishes the letter Z? Well, I can't answer that but I can tell you that there are no new surprises in her Y novel; this is pure Kinsey Millhone ferreting out the truth in her job as a private detective.The novel takes place over 2 time periods that switch back and forth easily. When a young man is released from prison after 10 years for the murder of a classmate, Kinsey is summoned by his parents as he is being blackmailed regarding a violent sex tape that was made when he was in high school. Meanwhile, Kinsey is also trying to evade a former stalker who has turned up again and complicating her life. I did feel that the action went on longer than was necessary but for lovers of this series, you will continue to be happy with her famous hero.
Future Home of the Living God
by Louise Erdrich
speculative world (10/17/2017)
Not having read any of the reviews, I had no idea what I was getting into. Having been a big fan of Erdrich's other novels, I assumed that this would again be a comparable success.However,it is a novel quite unlike anything she has written before. This speculative fiction portrays a young woman, Cedar, telling the story of her life to her unborn child through a notebook diary. Contrary to most dystopian novels, this was not set in the future. In this strange world, time was turning backwards and vegetation was changing to previous epochs, pregnant women were being herded into hospital prisons, and people were arming themselves through fear of the unknown. I couldn't help feeling an undercurrent of political tones but perhaps I was reading into the novel. As I went through the first third of the novel, my first reaction was that it was sluggish and confusing. After that it picked up and I was truly engrossed in the action. However, during the last quarter of the book in Part 3, it felt like it lost steam. Similar in themes to the Handmaid's Tale, women's bodies become a central issue. With the Harvey Weinstein fiasco, this tale could not be more au courant.
Wonder Valley
by Ivy Pochoda
The wonder in all of us (10/9/2017)
Written with raw energy and palpable emotion, this gritty novel covers the disappearance of a teenage boy twin who runs away from his father's "spiritual" commune like structure, leading to exposing the stories of several other characters who are enterwined with one another.The story begins with a naked runner running down the California freeway with and against the traffic. A terrific hook to get the reader wanting to explore the mystery of his mission. Is he mentally disturbed? Does anyone know him? From here ,other parallel stories are told which end up intersecting with his. The author had an uncanny ability to describe life on the streets, including memorable dialects and character portrayals that made me thoroughly enjoy her easy writing style. Its simplicity belies the difficulty of writing this prose. A moving story that illustrates the desperation and uncovering of the need to follow what you think is your course in life only to find that perhaps it has been in a different direction all along.
Next Year in Havana
by Chanel Cleeton
A sweeping romantic saga (10/3/2017)
How long has it been since you have read a book that conveys both romanticism about people and their country and also the strife involved in a revolutionary world? Chanel Cleeton delivers on both. In her heartbreaking novel about the Perez sugar baron family, they are forced to leave Cuba to settle in Miami after Castro emerges a victor against Battista. However, the novel begins with several generations later, when young Elisa Perez goes to visit the Cuba that her grandmother waxed about poetically. Having been to Cuba, I was impressed how the author was able to convey the mood, architecture and stressors so accurately. In this poignant story, Elisa is trying to find the perfect place to scatter her grandmother's ashes. While there however, she uncovers hidden history that takes her on a dangerous search, but also finds true love . The author skillfully creates a sweeping saga of the entire family unearthing issues of exile, identity, family and sacrifice. The character development was excellent and the breathless wonder of Cuba and its survivors won me over.
Hide and Seek: A Helen Grace Thriller
by M.j. Arlidge
mayhem in the prison (9/27/2017)
M.J.Arlidge does it again! Whenever a new book comes out in this series, I get apoplectic as I KNOW it is going to be a winner. So far, he has never failed on this mission. Despite the continued storyline, I feel comfortable recommending this as a stand alone. However, reading the other books helps to expand the novel giving it a further depth. In his 6th novel featuring Detective Helen Grace, she is unjustly accused of 3 crimes and sentenced to prison awaiting her trial. While in prison she is subjected to taunts and physical acts of violence. However, when an horrendous murder with macabre results occurs, Grace puts on her inspector's hat and tries to uncover the devious plot. The followup to this is fast paced and thrilling and not clear as to whom the perpetrator is. The other plot line features her side kick Charlie trying to find Grace's nephew who has framed Helen for these murders. Although the structure of the novel doesn't lend itself to be as tense as her previous novels, Arlidge does a terrific job of keeping one up late into the night.
Lightning Men: A Novel (The Darktown Series)
by Thomas Mullen
A timely reminder (9/24/2017)
Thomas Mullen's previous book Darktown had me in its grips. Even when it was under the radar, I kept pushing my copy on people telling them they HAD to read it or would be missing out on a gem. With my expectations so high, I couldn't wait to get my hands on # 2 of the trilogy. Firstly, I can say that I did enjoy the book but it didn't have the pull and the horror that enveloped me with the first novel. Timely, thought is, in light of what happened in Charlottesville, and a vehicle to discuss the elements of racism. Set in the racially charged neighborhoods of Atlanta in the 1950's, the story continues with the black officers trying to enforce standards in their community with little support from the white police officers. Black families are beginning to move into formerly all white neighborhoods with increasing displeasure from the community. Rake, a white officer, who tries to be fair, finds out that his bigoted brother in law, Dale, a member of the Klu Klux clan, has set out to help his clan fix that problem. What follows is a world skyrocketing out of control, where family ties and loyalty are pitted against the law and drugs and booze infect their society and all officers have to determine where their red line exists..
Good Me Bad Me
by Ali Land
A Taut Suspenseful Read (8/21/2017)
Could. Not. Put. This. Down...I started in the morning, read through lunch, read through supper and did not go to bed before it was complete. The writing was taut, suspenseful, and unrelenting. My stomach was in knots throughout and it took a while for the kinks to unwind. A young teenager, Mollie, has turned in evidence against her disturbed mother who has captured 9 children, kept them in her "playhouse" and subsequently killed each one. As her mother was a nurse, with a cunning ability to manipulate people, she was never suspected until Mollie cracked and went to the police. Mollie goes to live with a foster family with a therapist who is trying to help her with her upcoming trial but his own family has its issues; a fragile wife who can't control her daughter who is determined to make Mollie's life hell. As the novel progresses, the tension ratchets even higher until the ending's explosion. RUN. TO. GET. THIS. ONE
Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng
A book club's dream (8/6/2017)
Wouldn't I love to be a fly on the wall listening to the animated discussion in book clubs following the reading of this superb novel. This is a novel that demands a book club and is destined to be one of the hottest picks for 2017.The Richardson family live an ordinary planned and privileged life in Shaker Heights, Ohio where the lawns are mowed, the gardens beautifully planted and neighbors are people you can count on. Mrs.Richardson dwells in this "perfect" existence with her four children and lawyer husband counting her harmony with a morally elitist sense of right vs wrong. Enter non materialistic Mia, an avant garde artist and photographer who lives life outside the box , and her teenage daughter Pearl.They roll into town and rent an apt from the Richardsons. However, Mia carries a deep dark secret that will upend both families' lives when unearthed. As Mia and Pearl become deeply insinuated in the Richardson's lives, issues of motherhood arise. Is someone defined as a mother by virtue of birth or by love or both? Ng provides a fairly conventional plot with quick pacing but the characters and questions drew me in. Jump in people and let's discuss..
Stay with Me
by Ayobami Adebayo
Heartbreaking (7/28/2017)
Let me say outright that I love a lot of Nigerian fiction and learning the mores of a culture is infinitely fascinating to me. Adebayo knocked this out of the park for me. I read it in one sitting as I did not want to let go of the characters and the intense pain I felt sympathizing with the main character, Yejide.The characters were so well drawn, defined and vivid. Set in the 1980's through the 2000, we first find Yejide and Akin trying for 4 years to conceive a child without any success. Both were college educated and dismissive of the rules of polygamy that were accepted in their Yoruba culture. However, one day Akin's mother comes to their house with another wife that her husband has already secretly married. Yejide,hurt and desperate, feels she must get pregnant any cost but the cost turns out to be greater than any of them had anticipated. Lies and betrayal provide a common theme intertwined with the demands of traditional culture vs modernity. Along the way we witness the political background of coups and elections which form an undercurrent of unrest to individual daily lives. But it is this marriage, this seemingly wonderful marriage, whose love gets tested and tested that provide the poignancy to this outstanding novel.

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