Reviews by RebeccaR

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Evening in Paradise: More Stories
by Lucia Berlin
I Enjoyed This Immensely ! (11/9/2019)
Although some of the titles of Lucia Berlin's works were familiar to me, I had never actually read anything written by Berlin prior to receiving a copy of EVENING IN PARADISE. In addition, I almost always prefer a novel to a collection of short stories. However, I not only thoroughly enjoyed Berlin's stories, but I now want to go back and read some of her other works and find out what I've been missing. There is something very honest about her characters in EVENING IN PARADISE and the everyday events they experience. I could picture the children playing in the heat of a Texas afternoon, the astonishment of passing through Miami airport and seeing little dogs dyed to match their old women-owners. I have visited, traveled through, or lived in many of the places in which these stories are set, and I was charmed by Berlin's ability to capture the sensory impressions of these places and realistically convey the first-person narrator's impressions. I have already recommended this book to several friends and am so happy that I was one of the fortunate people to receive an ARC.
Ordinary Girls: A Memoir
by Jaquira Díaz
An Intense Look at the Effect of Poverty (9/9/2019)
Although ORDINARY GIRLS is a memoir, it is also an intense bird's-eye view of poverty and its particularly devastating effects upon females in America. For readers who liked the YA novel The Hate U Give, there's no doubt you will like Jaquira Diaz's memoir. However, for readers who might have been disappointed in The Hate U Give or who never read it because YA is not a genre you cross over to, do not let this "for fans of" type comparison prevent you from reading ORDINARY GIRLS. Diaz's book reads like a novel but does not spare any gritty details or romanticize poverty. There are no cliche we-were-poor-but happy scenes here. Young Jaqui's debilitating hunger and exposure to pedophiles openly preying on unsupervised children help the reader understand just how bad urban poverty can be. Interestingly, the author does not condemn any one person or sector of society for her horrible childhood or her horrible life choices. When the book wraps up with references to well-televised moments in Puerto Rico after 2017's Hurricane Maria, it is a vivid reminder that these 319 pages deal with real people.
The Shadow King: A Novel
by Maaza Mengiste
A Stunning Epic Tale (6/13/2019)
Although there have been many books written about or set in the time frame of World War Two, Maaza Mengiste's epic story is unique. There's no one book to which THE SHADOW KING can be compared; this is a 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Gone With the Wind,' and "All Quiet on the Western Front,' rolled into one but set in Ethiopia and told with an emphasis on the female perspective of Hirut, an African enslaved to other Africans. Woven into this story is also the history of Emperor Haile Selassie who has loved his position of wealth and power and can not come to grips with the disintegration of his position.
There are so many powerful sentences that make a reader stop and think about the truth contained in the words that you will never finish the book if you stop to log them all. Another strength of this book is its unflinching honesty about the ravages of war, from the rape of women to the important part that female fighters played in Ethiopia as Mussolini stepped up his quest for world power and personal glory at any cost, to the insensitivity of some wartime photographers, along with the horror of brave warriors fighting with spears against tanks and planes with mustard gas. At 419 pages (in my ARC) and a smaller font than many books these days, this is not a book for the faint of heart, but it deserves to be read!
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
Unique, Haunting, and Special Tale (6/10/2019)
This book has a teenage male protagonist but readers of all ages and genders will be able to relate to the difficulties he faces. Darius's Persian ancestry makes him a target of ignorant bullying at home in the USA, but a family trip to spend time with aging grandparents before it's too late to do so, is not entirely a warm and fuzzy reunion with one's maternal-side genetic roots. I found myself laughing out loud (a cliche but when it is true, there is no other way to describe one's reactions). At times, I think I even had a true guffaw. Other times, readers will likely have tears in their eyes. This really is a special book. I would be surprised if the movie rights have not already been purchased. Add it to your must-read list! In the summer of 2018 I read an ARC of this book and loved it from the start.
Beirut Hellfire Society
by Rawi Hage
Cormac McCarthy Meets Orhan Pamuk in Modern Civil War (5/13/2019)
This gritty novel forces the reader to ponder the futility of mankind's never-ending history of wars.The absence of quotation marks propels the reader into the midst of war-torn lives in which morals, modesty, and motives are in a constant state of flux and are often absent. How sensible are wars when undertakers for different sides can exchange bodies but leaders can not exchange sensible plans to bring peace? The book can be shocking at times and confusing in a few places (is a scene a dream, a delusion, or real), but ultimately this book is a sad reflection on war narrated in the first-person by a mortician's adult son. I probably would not have selected this book in a book store, and I am glad I had the opportunity to read this as a member of BookBrowse.
The Half-Life of Everything: A Novel
by Deborah Carol Gang
Unsure of How I Feel (2/10/2019)
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. I was drawn to reading it after the shock of seeing an older person I know develop dementia recently. Parts of Ms. Gang's novel I liked, and other parts I did not. That is how I ended up with an overall rating of 3 stars. It is difficult to explain without some slight spoiler alerts past this point of my review.

As I read the book, I found myself thinking several times that the threesome situation just was not realistic. However, (spoiler alert) while flipping through a February 18, 2019 issue of People magazine in an airport, I was shocked to read a true story about a husband/father who "Can Still Find Some Joy" while caring for his wife with Alzheimer's - for the same reason as husband/father David. A big difference between this true magazine article and the book, however, is the condition of the wife. Something else I struggled with in the book were the detailed scenes of intimacy between David and his partners. I think alluding to the lovemaking would've been enough, not because I'm against books with descriptions of intimate actions but because it just did not seem to be a smooth integral part of the overall story.

I look forward to the guided discussion of this book with others who received an ARC. I always appreciate an opportunity to read a book that I otherwise might not have chosen.
Eternal Life
by Dara Horn
Sad, Touching, Unique - Loved It (1/5/2019)
Eternal Life was different than I expected since it began in ancient Biblical times. I am not sure how I thought the author would handle transitions for Rachel, the female protagonist, to move on to more of her life, but it was not how the author did it. (I hate to say more and ruin the book for anyone.) To be honest, I had not thought about the eventual need to leave as one's other family members -especially children- started aging. It is difficult to describe this book without plot spoilers, but author Dara Horn does an incredible job of capturing the intense emotions of everything from young love and letting hormones hijack clear thinking to the sadness of knowing that underlying wonderful about a current family is the knowledge of the cycle of life. Will you, the reader, want to live forever at the end of the book? Highly unlikely. I feel that this is an unforgettable story which just may leave you more appreciative of the beauty in every day you have as a material person on our incredible planet. It would be a good choice for book clubs because people could talk about poor choices in life, picking the wrong partner, parents' warnings that turned to have validity, and on and on. This might be a book that is more appealing for women. I am so glad that I read it!
Force of Nature: A Novel
by Jane Harper
Enjoyable, Realistic, Scary - All in One! (12/5/2018)
For anyone who has ever groaned (audibly or mentally) about team-building exercises in the work place or corporate retreats to hash out (yet again) job or co-worker issues, then Jane Harper's novel will instantly strike home. However, no matter what one's occupation may have been or is now, this book is sure to keep you reading, even if you do not categorize yourself as a reader of mystery books, per se. The relationships between all of the office employees are on edge as they deal with a rigorous corporate retreat which involves hiking and map reading and compass usage to - supposedly- bring them all together. It is clear from the start that many f these people tolerate each other rather than like or respect one another; their personal competitiveness is a realistic aspect of this book. In fact, the title iForce of Nature/i also applies to and is a sad commentary on human nature: the 'keeping up with the Joneses' syndrome, the one up-manship and the facade of perfect lives that people create on social media. However, intertwined with Harper's characters are a domineering company president, parenting concerns with sexually active teens, sibling rivalry intensified by substance abuse and failed job prospects, as well as very realistic fears about the remote setting itself.
There are a few points at which readers might think they have the outcome figured out, but the author continues to maintain the suspense. What's lacking are the stereotypes that can turn off a reader to the mystery genre: no super heroes with imaginary skills in solving crimes that stump anyone else; no miraculous personality changes that save the day.
Anyone who is not familiar with the works of Ms. Harper will most likely want to read other works by her at the completion of this book.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
by Anissa Gray
Realistic Life Lessons from Desperate People (10/7/2018)
I'm glad I read this book, although I wasn't immediately sure I was going to enjoy it. The summary on the back cover says that not even the "sisters are sure exactly what happened," and I think that was some initial confusion for me as well. While it was clear that eldest sister Althea and her husband were arrested, I would have liked more information on the extent of the scam. There are some important issues handled in this book - bulimia, physical abuse, behavior problems in school (stemming from unstable home lives) as well as a variety of relationships. Perhaps most importantly, this book addresses an issue that is pervasive in societies around the world and very much in the news in the United States at the moment: the casting of doubt on females who have been assaulted or abused with the question of why something was not said sooner. The answer is clear in this book and that is that people doubt you anyway or looked the other way when there was a cry for help, hoping that the problem would just go away and that they would not have to get involved. I think this book's plot contains important issues for book club discussions.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
A Special, Unique, and Unforgettable Coming-of-Age (9/12/2018)
I would classify this as a must-read for 2018! Darius is a unique teenage boy whose story will appeal to all ages, even though the book is categorized as YA. Darius has to deal with high school life where he isn't one of the supposedly cool, in-crowd boys along with the added difficulty of having a mother whose Middle Eastern heritage is viewed with suspicion. As the story progresses, he learns to appreciate so many things about his mother's side of the family. However, the learning process is realistic: neither side of the family is portrayed with rose colored glasses. This book has laugh-out-loud moments as well as those where the reader cringes in sympathy with Darius.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
History Made Heartbreaking (7/18/2018)
I knew I wanted to read this book because I was curious about a part of history which I had not heard about previously, but what I did not expect was to find the book so interesting. I hesitate to call it entertaining because it deals with such sorrow and pain, but the author is able to pull the reader into the lives of the young women. One feels as if the story is unfolding for the first time before their eyes. Sometimes people have a tendency to romanticize so-called "Good ol' Days;" this book makes it clear that there are some dark and very disturbing parts of relatively modern American history. Author Kate Moore conveys her genuine concern for the subject matter, and every chapter contains well researched and documented facts. I have already recommended the book to several friends.
The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel
by Eleanor Henderson
An Engrossing Epic; An Emotional Rollercoaster (7/11/2018)
There are a lot of emotionally flawed human beings in this tale of Great-Depression-Era Georgia, and author Emily Henderson uses them to keep the reader on edge; one is never sure where the actions are leading, and this stays true to the very end. I can't really think of any good comparisons as many novels have these days, those "for fans of..." comparisons. There's a sprinkling of the more intense moments from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. and a sprinkling of the evil moments from Girsham's A Time To Kill and yet there is a lot more: well researched facts about that era, knowledge of 1930's life in rural, small Southern towns where prejudice, false pride, lack of education or opportunity in general, and a distinct line between have's and have-not's seems to be permanent for generations. Author Henderson captures the dialect perfectly as some morally reprehensible characters stomp their way through some forced and tragic miscegnation. If you're a reader that likes fairy tale romances, then this book may not be for you, but if you like a good story, an amazingly complex plot, and historical accuracy, then buy this book A.S.A.P. I think it would be good for book clubs as well.
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
The Kindred Souls of All Humanity (3/14/2018)
I wavered between a 4 and a 5 for this book because I enjoyed reading it and felt the author did an excellent job of portraying the coming-of-age emotions of Hadia and her brother Amar, heightened by being part of a minority race and religion at a time when belonging and feeling the thrill of growing up with your peers is so important. Yet at the same time, as a reader, I was a little frustrated with the alternating flashback-present tense format. Sometimes the flashbacks went back to a younger age than the previous flashback, and I found myself underlining ages or grades in school to try and keep it straight. One of the strengths of this book is the honest insight it presents into a culture and family.I hope that readers who may not be accepting of a religion other than their own can read this book and come away appreciating the common threads of goodness and morality which bind many faiths as well as the shared religious stories.
Ginny Moon
by Benjamin Ludwig
I Couldn't Put It Down (1/4/2018)
I absolutely loved this book and could not turn the pages fast enough. The newspaper review which compares this book to The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time caught my attention since I still remember reading that book many years ago. However, this book's narrator is more appealing. However, I must admit that I felt the frustration of the teachers and adoptive parents as the formerly abused, autistic fourteen-year-old made choices that continued to mess up her life. Anyone who has ever had a friend in an abusive situation or interacted on a regular basis with children or young teens with autism or other mental issues will immediately know that the characterization of Ginny rings true. I like the fact that this book tells a fast-paced story with some unsavory characters without having to use a plethora of curse words. I like to be able to recommend books to teenagers as well as adults, and with some other books, the pages of "T.M.I." intimate details sometimes ruined that opportunity. The reader will feel suspense, frustration with a victim of abuse who seems to choose to hinder her own progress, and some moments of restrained anger (much like the teachers and adoptive parents)
I highly recommend this unique book and think it would work well with book clubs as well as anyone just wanting an interesting story. I also hope this book will be made into a movie some day, but I want the movie to follow the book exactly.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things: A Novel
by Bryn Greenwood
Couldn't Put It Down (10/1/2017)
I haven't stayed up late to finish a book in a long time, but that is exactly what I did for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS. I had to know what the outcome would be for this novel's young female protagonist in a book which tells a story with unique American characters, and some gritty, tense moments. The problematic, substance-abuse situations sounded real, and at the end of the book when I read some background on the author, I understood why this book was believable. This book is not a make believe world where everyone is wealthy and gorgeous; it is real, taking the reader down back roads that we all know exist. People with money might be able to pay for prescriptions for opiod drugs and have "acceptable" substance abuse problems that our society feels free to talk about and have television ads about, up to and including opiod-induced constipation with clean cut, hardworking citizens endorsing the drug remedies. This book is not that clean, suburban world. I know that some readers might be put off by some of the rough, intimate scenes and a few of the words used to describe it, but this book is realistic. Without the gritty aspect, it would be like reading a history book of Europe in WWII and having Hitler's regime described as "Since Hitler did not want to be friends with Jewish people, he asked them to move out of his country." I will not forget reading about the character named Waverly.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
by Cherise Wolas
A Very Unique Book (6/15/2017)
in some ways it is difficult to describe this book when you recommend it to another person. I found myself getting wrapped up in the stories within the story, and then it would be a jolt when it ended. I found myself thinking : this partial story needs to be its own story. At times the protagonist's emotions might seem surprising, but I couldn't help but think about how Kate Chopin's honest-emotion stories were considered shocking in the 1800's. Even if a woman's life is totally different than protagonist Joan's life, I feel that Joan's soul-searching is something any woman can relate to.
The Bone Tree: A Penn Cage Novel, Natchez Burning Trilogy #2
by Greg Iles
The Dastardly Characters Are Believable (10/12/2016)
I enjoyed the continuation of the lives of characters I met in a previous Greg Iles book (Natchez Burning), although in this book (for some reason) I sometimes had to stop at the start of a new chapter and figure out which character was the focus. The evil nature of some of the characters is shocking but not unbelievable - given the front page news in modern life. The detail about the Kennedy half-dollar coins (I won't say more to avoid a 'spoiler alert') is vivid one that made me wonder if the author knew someone who had actually done that. And as with the previous book I read, the attitude of the modern KKK members rings true and continues to be disturbing. There are many characters and details in this 804 page book. I enjoyed the journalistic details of Caitlin's life and the shocking revelation of a certain adult's illegitimate son. Despite all the bigotry and laws against inter-racial marriages in our country's earlier days, it's no secret that there were plenty of affairs and rapes leading to children of mixed heritage. So I think that detail was very realistic.
Throughout the book I tried to read very carefully when I found myself thinking, "Wait..how did this situation deteriorate into this?" Maybe I was reading too early in the morning without enough coffee, but I still am not totally clear on why the situation spiraled out-of-control for the father/doctor Tom Cage.
I liked the interview in chapter 38 and felt as if the author had access to bona fide materials related to Oswald and JFK's death. I enjoyed reading this book. I rated it a 4 instead of a 5 only because at times I thought the extensive dialogue or description could be condensed.
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
Stick With It -It's Worth It (8/12/2015)
At first I had difficulty getting into Backman's novel about a grumpy older man. However, I advise readers to stick with the story; both the story and the seeming curmudgeon will worm their way into your heart. The story seemed unique to me, and I liked that. At times I laughed out loud, followed by scenes that tugged at the heart strings. I think this would be a good book for book clubs.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
by Fredrik Backman
Captivating Title Drew Me in to a Unique Tale (7/8/2015)
As someone who had close and special relationships with both grandmothers, this book caught my eye because of its title. I loved parts of this book and sometimes felt a little bogged down in other parts (where Grandmother's creative tales for her granddaughter are actually written out as fairly detailed parts of the book.) I probably would have liked the option of 4.5 rating for this book. The fairy tale inserts tempted me to rate this book as a 4, but that seemed too low. Readers who are familiar with author Backman's first book, A Man Called Ove, will probably feel more comfortable with the character of Granny as they will be certain that there will be heartwarming surprises and "aha" discoveries as to why some characters are unique and even abrasive at times. The plot and characters are original and fun at times, and I think book clubs would have a lot to dissect and talk about.
Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf
by Norah Vincent
Struggling to Review This (7/1/2015)
I am glad that I read this book, but it was neither an "easy read" or one that was easy to rate. The fact that I found some of the characters' personalities disturbing at times made me settle on a 4 rating since I feel that author has done his or her job if the reader feels a response. This is probably not a book for people to select for entertainment or the average book club since many of the characters seem to be somewhat tortured souls at times (half sister ends up in an asylum, awkward "friendships" that seem more like competitions) and not being able -or willing- to live openly as they truly are (gay and lesbian or bi with the public persona of being monogamous, heterosexual married couples.)

I thought I knew a little about Virginia Woolf when I selected the book, but as I read it, I quickly realized I actually only knew her name, titles of her famous works and where/when she lived. I had a lot to learn, and that part is enjoyable - even though the details of Virgina's life aren't happy. There seemed to be an insinuation that her half brother George abused her, and she denigrates even her husband, Leonard. I found myself wondering what ever brought this couple together.

I was a little confused at first as to whether Virginia's comments were Adeline's (after she adopted the name Virgina) or the words of her namesake. I think (but am not sure without rereading the book) that sometimes it was both of the Virginias. I also found myself stopping as I read and making a few notations on things I wanted to research: why did Virgina send the insulting blank-page book to Vita Sackville, a woman with whom Virgina had an affair although Vita went on to marry a man, and is there more information on T.S. Eliot's wife, Vivien? (She doesn't seem too likeable, yet Virgina and Leonard seem to count this couple among their supposed friends.) An unexpected plus to reading this book is that suddenly T.S. Eliot's famous poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" made a little more sense to me. But that sensibility is not a happy one. There is a reference to this very poem on page 178 of the book, Adeline. I also knew nothing about the Steinach Operation until I had read this book. So, the book was quite a learning experience, although the lives of the people often seemed depressing. The author truly captured the mental turmoil and debilitating feelings of depression with her descriptions, such as this passage for a dress that Virgina wore over and over : a "wad on the floor... threadbare, seldom washed, grubby with use" so that even her husband complained of its smell. That is actually quite powerful writing, so I commend the author for that.
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Evening in Paradise
by Lucia Berlin

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes."—NPR

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