Reviews by Sandi W.

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Never Have I Ever
by Joshilyn Jackson
slow start to devious plot (8/9/2019)
A knock comes at your door. A new neighbor introducing themselves. How innocent can that be?

In this case, nothing but madness. As Roux injects herself into Amy's life all hell breaks loose. Amy is a happy comfortable house wife with a new baby, step daughter and wonderful husband, who is also a part time deep sea diving instructor. Her family is comfortable and her friends are many. Her best friend Charlotte is a treasure. But Amy has secrets - and Roux plans to use those secrets to her advantage.

This is another great book by Jackson. After what I thought to be a slow start, her story moves along nicely, her devious plot keeps growing, and her characters are first rate. Betrayal, deception, and the ability to uncover facts, takes this story into the deep recesses of one person's hell.
My Life as a Rat
by Joyce Carol Oates
Relationships, survival, and overcoming family separation... (7/21/2019)
3.75 starts Thank you to Ecco for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published on June 4, 2019.

How do you make moral decisions? Does it depend on the circumstances? Depend on who may be involved? Depend on the outcome or on who knows what your decision is? Would that be different if you were a 12 year old child?

This is the story of Violet who had to make a moral decision. She had a secret. A secret about her brothers. She kept that secret, until she couldn't keep it anymore. Once revealed everything in her life changed. She had to leave her school, her friends, her very home. Her family shunned her. And not for a short time, but most of them for the rest of her life. She was 12 years old and the youngest of 7 children and none of them, including her parents, spoke to her for years afterward.

Two of her older brothers had killed a boy - a racial killing. Violet had overheard them talking and they shared their secret with her. Both brothers were convicted and sent to prison. Her family went into financial debt due to this and her father never forgave her.

The novel continues with the life Violet lived. How she processed what she had done. How she made a new life for herself and how she at long last related to the remaining members of her family, which also included one very traumatic episode.

A story of relationships, survival, overcoming family separation, loyalty, regret and love.

In my opinion one of Joyce Carol Oates' best books.
The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides
Where does the transference start and stop? (7/21/2019)
4.5 stars

Ewww! I feel like an idiot! I did not follow the clues at all! I was gobsmacked when the plot twist happened. This was a good book! I look forward to reading more by Michaelides. This book is worthy of a seasoned author, and being Michaelides' debut novel only has me hoping that he is well into his next book.

Criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is treating Alicia Berenson. She has shot her husband, then has gone silent and has been placed at the Grove, a secured inpatient psychiatric center. Theo is trying to track down why she shot her husband when it seems they had a great life. Alicia is a painter, her husband Gabriel is a fashion photographer.

In the interim Theo and his wife Kathy begin to have marital problems. How much of his own trauma is rubbing off in his treatment of Alicia? Or is the treatment of Alicia worming its way into Theo's life? Where does the transference start and stop?

This is an exceptionally good debut novel. One you should not miss.
The Spies of Shilling Lane
by Jennifer Ryan
More meddling busybody than WWII spies... (7/21/2019)
3 stars Thank you to Crown for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published June 4, 2019.

London, WWII, spies and a mother/daughter situation. Controlling, busybody Mother went in search of her daughter in London. Once there she finds out that she had been lied to and daughter Betty is missing. Betty is involved with M15 and is a spy. However Mom has been keeping a few secrets from Betty also.

Personally I did not connect very well with any of the characters - other than Mr Norris. He came across as a Don Knotts type character, which I did find refreshing.

Characters and story in this book are suitable for a cozy mystery series. There is some humor and some violence - however shaded. It is not a story that puts you on edge or forces you to turn pages, but more of a beach or cozy read. Don't expect a great spy novel or a great WWII story - this book is neither. It is not a heavy hitter. Even the serious and quasi-violent parts are more in the flavor of the Keystone Cops or Three Stooges.

When considering this novel think more meddling busybody than WWII spies.
Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit: A Kopp Sisters Novel
by Amy Stewart
Things are a changin'.... (7/21/2019)
3.5 stars rounded up
Another cute caper by the Kopp Sisters. This is book #4 in the series. This series started out based on a real story about Constance Kopp, first female deputy sheriff in Hackensack New Jersey. I believe now, into the fourth book, that maybe fiction has totally taken over.

As we come to the end of Robert Heath's reign as Sheriff we are left with a less than fulfilling ending. Constance is up in the air as to what her future will be. The new man voted in as Sheriff does not believe that there is any need for a female matron at his jail.

After a heroic rescue of a hand cuffed man in the river, helping to release a wronged wife from the insane asylum, and suffering through her sisters building of a traveling pigeon coop, many things are changing for Constance.

I fear that one of the main characters of the book may on his way out - which would be a shame. But book #5 Kopp Sisters on the March is already published - so off to the library to see how this series will continue....
Recursion
by Blake Crouch
Your 'untrue life' ... (7/21/2019)
Thank you to Crown for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published on June 11, 2019.

Another great novel by Blake Crouch. Having read Dark Matter a couple years ago I was taken by this author. I am not a great fantasy or science fiction fan. However, this author can twist that science fiction into something that sounds and feels real. Maybe futuristic, but a good possibility of being right on track. He hit the nail right on the head again with Recursion.

"False Memory Syndrome " is the current project of Neuroscientist Helena Smith. It was so named by the media because it causes people to remember an untrue life. There comes a point in their life that they remember all these memories of a life that never happened. A parallel life to their own, that finally drives them crazy.

Smith buddies up with a rich philanthropist to further her work, until she realizes that she has been taken advantage of and he only wants to use her invention in a personal selfish way and not for good.

Once she escapes from this bad situation she rebuilds her chair and numerable times under goes the process to stop and return time in the hope of saving the world before her opponent destroys it. Done in a very good way this equates to "Groundhog Day" with the repeating of this time frame again and again - with each time being spent in a different location.

There was some techie talk in this story, that might be hard to follow if you are not aware of technical terms. However, it by no means ruins the story or interferes with the flow of the narrative. For me it just advanced the futuristic feel of what Crouch made seem...all to possible.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton
by Sara Collins
The slave's confession... (7/21/2019)
Through the written confession of a slave, a maid, we find out whether or not she committed the murder that she is being tried and convicted of. Frannie Langton has been accused of killing the woman she loves - a wealthy woman whose illness puts her in frail state. Not to mention her addiction to opiates.

Educated by her Jamaican 'Massa' so that she could help with his experiments on his slave population, he then 'gifted' her to his London scientific-writing partner in crime. Once she became her Mistresses personal maid she saw the disparity between her and the Mister and took her mistresses side in all accounts, only to find this action would hurt her in the near future.

When arrested for the murders of her new owners, Frannie is not sure. She is also now a opiate addict, thanks to her Mistress, and cannot remember what actually happened. The final account of her life she writes as her trial takes place.

Collins did a good job not only on character development but on the way she presented the story. Chapters are interspersed between Frannie's final letter and her murder trial. It is only in the last pages that Collins brings the story together. With this type of work as a debut, this author will be one to watch.
Her Kind of Case: A Lee Isaacs, Esq. Novel
by Jeanne Winer
Winer writes to her own experiences - wonderful! (5/24/2019)
There are not many books that get a 5 star rating from me. However this book rose right to the top. I had to often remind myself that this book is fiction. In story and character it ranked right up there with the true crime books that I often read.

Lee Isaacs is a defense attorney. She takes on the case of one young man who is accused of helping skinheads kill a gay man. Her client, Jeremy refuses to talk to her, but he has confessed to the crime. Lee must use all her experience and vices to fester out what really happened, who is really to blame, and why her client refuses to help defend himself.

This is my first read by Winer, who is a retired criminal attorney herself. Writing to her own experience is indeed much to the readers delight. This novel was tight, succinct, and a definite page turner. There was belief in the characters, a couple of laugh out loud moments, and building suspense as the book developed. It is well worth the time to read.
Heart in the Right Place: A Memoir
by Carolyn Jourdan
Laugh out loud humorous. (5/11/2019)
Most non-fiction that I read is historical, about a trial, a murder, a famine, a famous person. However, this non-fiction was family-oriented, and humorous. Laugh out loud humorous.

Carolyn Jourdan was where she thought she wanted to be. She had the job she thought she wanted. She was in the glitz and glimmer. Then she was needed at home. Her father was a small town doctor, often taking this years fresh tomatoes in payment for his services. He needed a receptionist for his office - temporarily. What else could she do - she moved home - temporarily - to Tennessee, the place that she wanted most to be away from.

This book is written in a quasi-vignette style. Jourdan tells some of the best of the best stories about working in her Dads office. She tells of the escapades of the local people and how her dad treats his patients, with both tenderness and understanding. How death reverberates back to the doctors office and that staff. And how the interaction of each of their jobs effect this tight knit community.
Where We Come From
by Oscar Cásares
mirrors today's true to life situation. (5/11/2019)
A topic very much in the headlines today - Immigration. Although this is a fictional story it mirrors today's true to life situation.

Nina caring for her elderly mother, gets roped into smuggling immigrants. Her God son befriends a young boy, who she is hiding and things spin out of control. Nina is trying to juggle the police, human traffickers, those she is hiding, her sick mother and her God son. Nina's mischief brings out secrets from her past.

This is my first book by Oscar Casares. I liked the book well enough to try another from this author, but would like for it to be different subject matter.
Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens's London
by Claire Harman
true crime revision (5/11/2019)
This is the true crime revision of the death of the British aristocrat Lord William Russell. He was killed in his bed, in London in 1840. The book goes on to solve the crime. However, in the interim, the author goes on to illustrate the beginnings of the 'Newgate novels', which was the birth of the fiction crime novel. These novels spoke to and about the working class man but also romanticized crime and violence. It was through this process that Lord Williams killer was ultimately caught, as his killers' inspiration and method were taken from a Newgate novel.

I found this to be a very unusual read for a non-fiction book. For a true crime story, from the mid-1800s, to read like a fictional history is unique. The language that the author used was more true to that time period than to today's works and for me took a little time to settle into. Once seated into the book I felt it read very well.
The Dreamers
by Karen Thompson Walker
Everything in a dice cup (5/11/2019)
I enjoyed this book right up to the ending. I was disappointed in the ending. I felt like the author just bundled everything possible into a dice cup and threw it out there as an ending. Let it land wherever it may. I didn't feel any real closure there. Just - maybe this happened, maybe that happened. No rhyme or reason. I think that took away from the overall story for me.

I did enjoy most of the story and most of the characters. I felt the writing was good enough to push me on and keep me turning pages. I do wish that the reveal of what the illness was had been pushed further back in the book. I felt that the reveal was a little bit early in the story.

I enjoyed it enough, however, to read another one of her books.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
by Robert Hillman
from warm to razor wire (5/11/2019)
My expectation was way off for this book. I was expecting a light romance kindled in a bookstore. So far from the actuality of this novel.

I felt that the book started out well, I really liked the main character Tom and also liked Peter, the son of Tom's wife. I also enjoyed the farm setting. I was still okay with the story when Tom met Hannah and helped her with the book store. But not long after that, I started to struggle. I usually like the alternating chapters that almost all authors have gone to recently. However, in this book, I felt that using that method made the story feel choppy and disconnected.

Other than Tom and Peter I did not like any of the characters in the story. Maybe that was because I expected a light romance and this novel is not that. I wanted and expected a nice light love affair, inspired in a book shop. This novel is definitely not light. And I don't feel that the bookshop played that big a part - at least not as I had imagined it would. Hannah's plight also did not seem to fit into the rest of the story. I felt it was too big of a contrast. Instead of going from warm to cuddly, this story went from warm to razor wire.

I can see where people may like this story, however, for me, it just did not work.
The Island of Sea Women
by Lisa See
Lisa See delivers (5/11/2019)
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. I probably would not have picked this book to read if it had not been for the book club. I had never heard of the haenyeo before, but then I know very little of the Korean traditions. This book not only helped to educate me on the culture of the female deep sea diving of Jeju, that provided their families income, but also on the horrific Japanese invasion and occupation of the Korean peninsula and islands.

This story tells the lives of two young Korean girls, from the 1930s up to the present day. It tells of their friendship, their life path, their misunderstandings and of their families that follow. Love, loss, friendship, death, and forgiveness are all themes in this book.

As is normal Lisa See delivers when she authors a book. She takes on subjects and traditions that I am unaware of and in her easily flowing way teaches, always hidden inside a good story.
The Last Year of the War
by Susan Meissner
pleasantly surprised (4/1/2019)
This being my first read of a Susan Meissner book I have no past references for comparison. However, with that said, I found this book to be very enjoyable. I enjoyed the way she moved her characters back in time to tell their story. I was pleasantly surprised to see she used a town very familiar to me to base the life of one character's childhood. Everything she spoke about still exists and two spots, in particular, have recently been in the news. For me, that brought an extra layer to the novel.

My only problem with the story was I felt that the ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked to have seen a few of the things that were bundled up for closure given a bit more time and detail.

Two elderly women, both with life-threatening illnesses, are brought back together for a final goodbye. After watching them grow up during WWI, both assigned to a detention camp by the United States and then sent back to their families homeland, they lost touch with each other. While following America born Elise, we see her return from a war-torn Germany and settle back into her life in America. Mariko, on the other hand, lived her life in Japan, until her later years of life, when she finally returned to America.

The story of not only war, of America's sad history of putting its own people into detention camps, but of the love and resilience of two young girls, as they navigated their lives as well as they could.
A People's History of Heaven
by Mathangi Subramanian
Mother/daughter dynamics (3/22/2019)
A poor lowly slum in Bangalore, hidden behind the city high rises. Houses physically built from scrapes. But the homes built with love. Five families - five young girls, well almost - who fight to live in this squalor they call Heaven, as bulldozers nosily idle nearby, waiting for a chance to grind up what little they have.

This book reminds me so much of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. Different nationality, different daily agenda, but the same mother/daughter dynamics. This is a debut novel, as was the Joy Luck Club for Tan, but it shows the resounding promise for Subramanian that sparked Tan's future career.
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions: A Kopp Sisters Novel
by Amy Stewart
warm and spirited (3/9/2019)
3.5 stars

The Kopp Sisters series is going to end all too soon for me, I am sure. Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions is the third book of the series and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Based on the real life of Constance Kopp, this fictional series is informative of the time, humorous in it's tone and both warm and spirited in it's story line.

Moving back in time to when the female was still owned and an object of the time, this series recalls the beginning of the female detective. Well ahead of her time, force to always defend herself, Constance Kopp was the first female detective in Hackensack New Jersey. Well liked by the Chief of Police, but not his wife, Kopp did her job well. She was an advocate for the female 'criminal' - knowing that females were harassed, and jailed, for petty incidents that men did on a daily basis. Standing up for the female population, that she tended in her section of the jail, was first and of foremost importance to Constance.

However this book dealt more with Constance's own family. Being the oldest of 3 sisters, at least in appearance, Constance goes very easy on the youngest, Fleurette, who wants to be a vaudeville singer and dancer. Disappearing in the night Flaurette becomes the thorn in the side of her sisters and Constance is forced to track her down, against her better judgement.

Amy Steward has a great series going. Her characters are well developed, her research is impeccable, and her story line is warm, humorous and lively.
The Secret of Clouds
by Alyson Richman
a family cloud (3/9/2019)
3.75 stars

If there were a place that everyone could find each other after they passed, Yuri a small Ukraine boy, dreamed it would be a family cloud.

A heartfelt novel with a great story line and wonderful characters celebrating teachers, of all ages. Music played a major role in this novel, letting you believe that even it was a cherished character. There is so much creativity in this book, both in the story itself and in the lives of the characters. Melding a Ukraine family into a Long Island existence, with factors related to the Chernobyl nuclear melt down, this contemporary story is based on a true life experience. Richman has put forth a story both sad and sincere and well worth the time to read.
Becoming
by Michelle Obama
"I'm an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey." (3/9/2019)
I was very pleased with this book. I felt that Michelle (who made you feel like you were her friend) did a wonderful job of telling her truth. She told of her aspirations, along with her fears. She did not hesitate to spell out her doubts and concerns. By the end of the book you had the feeling of the dynamics of both her marriage and her family life, along with her childhood, education and employment past. Reading this book only furthered my admiration for Michelle.

One of the places that she mentioned in her book I have frequented. She said that she and the girls would sneak away while at Camp David and go to Liberty Mountain to ski. My daughter had a lake house directly across from Liberty Mountain and their ski slopes. Besides being at the resort, my daughter had a glass walled room that looked out over the lake and ski slopes. It was fun to sit there with a cup of coffee or drink in front of the fire and watch people come down the slopes - both day and night, since they lighted the ski slopes. Obviously, you could not distinguish one skiing person from another, and the Obama's were never at the resort when I was, but it gave me that little extra connection while reading the book.

I think the sentence that most vividly stood out to me in the whole books was in the Epilogue. The very last paragraph started with ~

"I'm an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey."

What a beautiful way to sum up her memoir.
The White Darkness
by David Grann
An unforgettable entry into one man's dream (2/6/2019)
There is not a thing that I have read by this author that I did not like. Grann tells it like it is, leaving you to decide whether you like the story or not. But always non-fiction and compelling. He is diverse in his projects, from the Amazon to Kitty Hawk to the Osage Indian tribe, his knowledge is vast. Now in the Antarctic he gives us a heartbreaking tale of one man's lifetime dream.

This short book not only tells us the dreams of Henry Worley, but also details the exploits of Worleys hero, Ernest Shackleton, who attempted to be the first to walk to the South Pole. Worley being related to one of Shackleton's team mates was obsessed with what they had attempted. So obsessed that, after other trips in Antarctica, Worley set out alone in 2015 to walk across the broad expanse of the bone chilling icy continent.

An unforgettable entry into one man's dream, by an outstanding author.

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