Reviews by lani

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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.
A Killer Harvest: A Thriller
by Paul Cleave
a rollicking good time (7/12/2017)
This is going to seem like a schizophrenic review. On one hand, I really really enjoyed this and was spellbound from beginning to end. On the other hand, I thought the basic premise so absurd that I had to keep myself from smirking. With full disclosure, I am medical so it prejudiced me in a way that might not affect other readers. A blind teenage boy's detective father is killed by a criminal in a horrific scene. However, his father's wish is that his son receive his eyes as a gift. When both the criminal and father's eyes are mixed up prior to surgery, the boy receives one eye from his father and another from the criminal. When the son begins to have vivid dreams that seem to come from the criminal's vision, the theory of "cellular memory" is introduced. That, along with the tension from someone who is trying to destroy anyone who was loved by his father's work partner, leads to a game of who-dun-it! In the course of this , I found some elements more silly than realistic, but still was enthralled. Morality issues of good vs evil, and how do you define those parameters plays out throughout the novel as well. Despite my misgivings, I couldn't put this quick read down. It is a perfect beach read and if one can just enjoy the plot you will have a rollicking good time.
The Atlas of Forgotten Places
by Jenny D. Williams
A stunner (6/14/2017)
Every once in a while, along comes a novel that won't leave you, that keeps you up at night contemplating important questions.Williams has constructed a novel that fits beautifully into this category. Based on real and imagined events set in the DNC and Uganda, this novel follows Sabine, a burned out aid worker who currently works in an animal shelter in Germany, Rose, a one armed Ugandan woman who was formerly abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, and Lily, a young girl doing volunteer work in Uganda, and Sabine's niece. When Lily does not return home as scheduled, Sabine races to Africa to see if she can find her, fearing the worst. What follows is a tromp through LRA battlegrounds, fighting through bureaucratic minefields with Rose and her boss.Both Rose and Sabine are looking for someone lost in their lives that they care deeply about. Williams has achingly sketched the principal characters with such a fine point pen, that they leap off the page, making us invested in their futures.There is so much to discuss and learn in this book that it is perfect for book groups. My only gripe is the open ended conclusion to the book, which left me angry as I needed more closure. However, it is a small price to pay for a book of such depth..
Live from Cairo
by Ian Bassingthwaighte
a pull on your heart strings (6/7/2017)
A terrific book that is incredibly timely. Set in Egypt after the overthrow of Mubarak, the book focuses on a young woman who has escaped from Iraq but finds herself rootless in Egypt. Her husband's immigration to the US was approved due to emotional hardship but hers was denied. The story revolves around her attempts to get papers and the people involved in the process. A disillusioned idealistic lawyer, his translator, and a young Iraqi American resettlement officer from UNHCR round out the cast of characters that play out the difficulties of asylum and refugees and the inhumanity of the situation. Captivating language and characters combined with a superb and fitting tale to the world of 2017 makes this a must read. Anyone with a heart cannot help but be touched by the reality posed within these pages.
The Almost Sisters
by Joshilyn Jackson
Your mouth will be stretched wide with smiles.. (5/4/2017)
I had not read her previous book ,The Gods of Alabama, but that is a case that will soon be rectified. What a beautiful voice Jackson gives to her characters, each with their clearly distinct personalities,which made me smile the whole way through. Quirky humor lends itself to every page, which belie the seriousness of some of the issues raised. Leia, a highly regarded comic artist has a one night stand leading to a pregnancy with a biracial child. Just as she discovers this, her step-sister's marriage unravels. To complicate matters further, her deeply adored grandmother,Birchie,begins a downward spiral of dementia.As she travels south to help her Grandmother, a new mystery unfolds that threatens the families stature in town. With abundant humor, all issues are tackled but underneath the carpet is the seriousness of privilege, racial bias, rules of the old South, and small town politics. Although I loved this book I would have given this a 4.5 star rating as the ending fell flat for me and felt somewhat abrupt. Otherwise, this is guaranteed enjoyment!
Desperation Road
by Michael Farris Smith
Characters with a soul (2/23/2017)
Starting this novel I was bemused as to why this had gotten such good reviews. Written with a slow Southern intonation, I didn't think this was "going to float my boat:.As I continued on and the action escalated, I was entranced by the way this deliberate rhythm stoked my involvement while its characters captured my heart. Rural Mississippi is the setting, where beer and whiskey, women,and guns are the norm.Russell Grimes spent 11 years in prison for killing a boy while he was drunk. He comes home to his hardscrabble town where the boy's brothers have been waiting to seek revenge. Another story line is a poor mother and her young daughter scrapping to just make it in life. Both characters' lives become intertwined in a way that is heartbreaking, vividly real, and filled with incredible emotional intensity. The book is still haunting me long after I put it down. A sure bet!!
Mississippi Blood: A Natchez Burning Novel #3
by Greg Iles
a masterpiece (2/22/2017)
The final chapter in Greg Iles's trilogy includes Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and finally Mississippi Blood. I was biting my nails waiting for this superb conclusion to one of the best series I have ever read. It took over 8 years to finish and I am sure readers who have been following this have been wondering what would happen to their main characters. This series is so special that it is being adapted for a TV series by Sony Pictures. You really need to read the books in order to achieve the full depth and comprehension of the events that took place. Despite being 800 pages, I was so absorbed that I stayed up to 1am to finish. The setting takes place in Natchez, Mississippi where Tom Cage's father is accused of the murder of his former African American nurse with whom he has had a love affair. Despite centering on the trial, the former issues of the white supremacy group whose cunning leader"Snake" are explored along with reconciliation, forgiveness,and family love. A conclusion that is so worthy that I want to shout it from the rooftops. If you miss this series, it is your loss...
The Stars Are Fire
by Anita Shreve
Transporting novel (2/17/2017)
Anita Shreve has done it again, giving us an absorbing story that I would have finished in one night but decided that sleep needed to become a priority.The setting is Maine, during the late 40's when Grace Holland, a young mother in a loveless marriage, tries to rescue her two young children when a huge forest fire breaks out. Homes are burnt to the ground as she struggles to the ocean, burying them in the sand to try to help them stay alive. Meanwhile her husband has gone to the front to try to keep the flames from spreading. Time goes by without any word from him. Ever the dutiful wife who feels she can't break her marriage vows, she is torn between wanting him dead and chastising herself for those immoral thoughts. As she develops a inner strength from taking care of the family and trying to support herself, circumstances arise that turn the novel on its head.
The novel's descriptive setting with Shreve's signature crisp style, transported me in time while simultaneously made me ache with both loneliness and delight for Grace. I was smitten by Grace's inner life, her complex and dissonant feelings and her growth as a strong character. Based on historical facts makes this book all the more authoritative. What a wonderful wonderful read.
The Second Mrs. Hockaday
by Susan Rivers
Compelling (12/3/2016)
Another goodie that readers will have to devour in the New Year; a nice way to start off 2017. At first I wasn't sure if I would like the structure of this novel. Set up as letters and diary entries, I actually thought it might be stultifying. Rather, it was engrossing with an exquisite level of tension that kept escalating. Based on a true incident, this fascinating story surrounds a young woman from the South who precipitously marries a Major employed in the Civil War's southern regiment. Almost immediately after, he is summoned back to the front lines, leaving this poorly equipped young woman to lead a 300 acre farm and its slaves in addition to an infant from his previous deceased wife.When the Major returns, he finds that his wife bore a child and supposedly murdered it. However, what really happened , along with the travails of war, and a snapshot of slave's treatment on plantations makes this a compelling read.
Edgar and Lucy
by Victor Lodato
An award winner... (11/11/2016)
How many languages can you spell love? I would shout it from the rooftops exclaiming my adoration for this novel about a special little eight year old and his family. I could tell from the very first page that this was a novel that I was going to savor and enjoy. Eight year old Edgar is an unusual albino child born into a "messy" family with complicated love issues. Lodato has created a child with such wonder, imagination, humor and pathos that I wanted to grab him and hold him tightly to my chest. It is a family narrative of love and grief taken to the extreme contexts,but the characters are so fleshed out that one feels as if they know them, although they may find some of them irritating or difficult to understand at first. Lucy, Edgar's mother, is pregnant with him at an early age, and due to her lack of maturity and upbringing, has absolutely no idea how to mother this child. However, her mother in law succeeds where she does not. Other characters enter this fray, and continue to set up obstacles as the young boy ages. My one slight disappointment was in the last few chapters which I thought were rushed and made me feel bereft of the fullness of the novel. However, no spoilers here.
The War Reporter
by Martin Fletcher
A Serbian thriller (8/3/2015)
Martin Fletcher is an inveterate foreign correspondent who brings his probing skills into this interesting fictional work .Tom Layne is an American journalist who has returned to the Balkan region after being captured and detained 10 years prior along with his translator Nina. Both suffer PTSD and although they have a romantic kindling, they do not contact each other during this interval. When he goes back to pursue a documentary film project, he rekindles his relationship and finds that both of them have become targets by forces that do not want them to find the whereabouts of Ratko Mladic,who was responsible for the genocide of many civilians. In describing Serbian/Bosnian history, Fletcher's skills shine. His own background as a foreign correspondent also illuminate the moral ambiguity of serving the story of serving humanity. I enjoyed the novel but found the love story detracted from the strength of the rest of the novel.
Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story
by Mac McClelland
Disappointing (1/2/2015)
I really wanted to like this book but reviewing this book was a difficult task. On the positive side I admired the author's writing and her raw openness about her condition and its effect upon her life. However, I couldn't help but question her credibility. Being somewhat familiar with her work, I found it very hard to understand how she was dissociating and crying maniacally and at the same time going undercover to write a piece about working in an Amazon warehouse. In addition, she starts the book by vague comments about being traumatized by an event she observed without specifics to make us understand what specific dangers she had been exposed to. Apparently, the person involved and her lawyer expressed that she had no authorization to speak about what happened to her, as she had reported specifics in an earlier article. However, that very lack of information undermines the rest of the book. She does present a great deal of valuable information about PTSD and self mutilation but doesn't build enough of a case to make her exposure believable. She did have a very troubling childhood which in itself could have led to severe emotional difficulties but I could not help judging the means and methods she went through to accomplish her goals. Her self portrayal was not very likable...and I had a hard time being sympathetic..I wish I could have been.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair: A Novel
by Joel Dicker
Be prepared to be hooked! (6/25/2014)
Despite my non belief in the 15 year old girl's voice, I was thoroughly entranced with this novel and read all of its 640 pages in 2 days, although getting done with nothing else in my life. A perfect summer book on the beach or long plane ride where you want to be swept into a drama where reading just one more chapter is never enough.It is a crime novel that takes so many turns you have no idea where it is headed. The minute you think you have it solved another piece of the puzzle rockets the story into a different direction. Not only a wonderfully woven thriller, but a true gem for writers themselves..Don't let its length put you off..Wonderfully addictive!
Island of a Thousand Mirrors
by Nayomi Munaweera
An exploration of war and loss (3/27/2014)
I was very anxious to read this book after being in Sri Lanka last year and visiting friend's relatives who lived there. Although, the first 80 pages felt like a poorly written soap opera, this dynamic devastating story picked up steam after that and never let down. This heartbreaking wrenching story of two close families, one Tamil and the other Sinhala, torn apart by civil war, becomes brutally alive as one endures reading about the atrocities created in the name of each side's righteous indignation of one another.

How ironic that today, the UN Rights council just approved an investigation into possible war crimes by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels in the final stages of the 26 year old civil war, ending in 2009, much to the fierce objections of the Sri Lankan government. The ending of the story is neatly tied together to expose the reality that no one is a winner.
How the Light Gets In: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, #9
by Louise Penny
a dazzling winner! (7/6/2013)
This is my first experience with Louise Penny and her Inspector Gamache series. I had long heard whispers about how good the series was but did not take it seriously. "What a fool am I!" What seems like a straight forward plot is filled with twists and turns and surprises that left my mouth agape. What was even more special, is how I really came to care for many of the characters who each had a very distinctive voice. This book is not simply a wonderful mystery, but a wonderful saga of a group of people, a town and a land whose beauty shines throughout the pages. I know I am one of those who are now going to go back and read the whole series. I dare anyone to not like this book.
Peking to Paris: Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World
by Dina Bennett
witty travelogue (3/6/2013)
In this amusing book, the author recounts her trip with her fearless husband in a 1940 Cadillac La Salle (alias Roxanne) for an antique automobile race from Beijing to Paris. Never having driven distances without car sickness, this intrepid traveler outlines the various stumbling blocks along the way, and exposes her emotional self with raw honesty. The novel brings to light this special universe and highlights the difficult interplays between other drivers and the environment. This witty novel is perfect for those who love a sense of adventure and exploring different habitats and customs.
Rage Against the Dying
by Becky Masterman
Riveting Read (12/25/2012)
As a 61 year old, it was an incredible treat to find such a feisty steel eyed older female heroine the likes of Brigid Quinn. This tough as nails ex-FBI agent is the principle character involved in a homicide case that was never completely solved and involved one of her rookies. The suspense was maintained from the startling opening to the surprise ending. This has GOT to be a best seller and a made for movie or TV series! Run out and read..You won't be sorry!
Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel
by Maria Semple
Hilarious (9/5/2012)
This is one book that I am urging all my friends to read - a perfect end of the summer wrap up. I laughed so hard throughout this witty novel and didn't want it to end. Run to the store for this one. You won't regret it..
Gone Girl: A Novel
by Gillian Flynn
Don't plan on sleeping (6/7/2012)
I adored this book..the writing, the twists and turns of the plot kept me up until 1am because I just wanted to keep reading..This one is a winner!
The Innocents: A Novel
by Francesca Segal
good beach read (5/7/2012)
A light hearted rendition of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence taken from a Jewish family's perspective. Being Jewish myself, I found the cultural proclivities,kinship and value system to be "spot on". For individuals not familiar with Jewish culture, it will be an enlightening and educational opportunity. Using Judaism as a core gives this book more depth to explore the issues of family and lost innocence in this light and easy read.

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