Reviews by Sandi W.

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The Dinner
by Herman Koch
A cold, horrendous act of violence (12/6/2018)
3.75 stars

Man, what a crappy family. Each person in this group of people has a problem, and one that supersedes the problem that they are all drawn together to solve. There is not one character in this whole novel that is likable. Some of their actions are very understandable, given the circumstances, however they were probably not the correct actions.

The whole premise surrounds a cold, horrendous act of violence that was carried out by 3 teenage boys, the sons of the adults drawn together for this dinner. During the gathering each of the 4 adults thought-process, motives, and insecurities come to light. Decisions are made. Lives are changed.

There were places in this book that I feel could easily have been eliminated. Paul, the story-teller, I felt went way too deep into his own background and his profession. Totally unneeded for the plot of this story. It quickly became boring. But once through all the nonsense, the basis of the book was very good. I don't agree with how the adults handled the situation, but I can understand it.

This book was translated from Danish and won multiple awards. Worth the read.
Three Things About Elsie
by Joanna Cannon
Grabbing Premise, fizzeling story... (11/14/2018)
A study in aging - the loneliness, the loss of memory and the secrets kept for years.

Florence Claybourne has fallen in her apartment. She lives in a retirement home and she knows she will soon be found. As she lays on her floor she begins to relive the secrets of her past. However, will her memory remain true to her?

I thought that this book did a good job in general describing the elderly population. It hit on lifetime friends, elderly limitations, forgetfulness, memory loss and secrets, kept from others and sometimes kept from oneself. It starts with the accident that puts Florence on her floor, then goes back in her memory to relive one of the biggest secrets in her life.

There are parts of this book that I felt drug on needlessly. Times when I really did not care about her remembering the true story of what happened years ago. But always I wanted to know the answer of the current story, if she was rescued from where she fell on her kitchen floor. So I did have a reason to read on.

Not a book that I would highly recommend to others, even with the grabbing premise it presents.
A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl
by Jean Thompson
bleak and sorrowful (11/14/2018)
This was a book that I probably would have set down, if it were not that I was reading it with a group. But because I was, I forged on, and am now fairly happy that I did.

The first half of this book was frustrating. I felt the characters were shallow and basically portrayed people who I try hard not to associate with. The story tells of three generations of women. First Evelyn, who was forced to conform and marry, when it was not what she wanted. Second was the peace maker Laura, who blamed herself for everyone else's problems. Lastly came Grace, who having no self confidence, was trying to find her place in life. I actually think the author did a good job in portraying these women, because I had such a visceral dislike for them.

In the second half of the book there was sadness. More sadness than even in the first half. Due to two deaths more intermediate people were brought into the story. This half of the story centered mostly on drug abuse and played out the way a lot of families actually go through it. This half also began to resolve some of the secrets and lies that had plagued the story.

This is the first novel I have read by Jean Thompson, so hate to do her a disservice by condemning her book or writing. I will say that even though I disliked her characters, she wrote them well enough to get that reaction from me. I would hesitantly read another novel by Thompson, but would first check it out making sure that it's subject matter was not as bleak and sorrowful as this book.
Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
The author gives you the visual, the characters give you the familiarity (11/14/2018)
Seldom does a book leave you with a warm and completed feeling. Especially one revealing a murderer in its closing paragraphs. But this is the book that managed to do just that.

Delia Owens introduces you to a wonderful list of characters. Then she sends them on their way to circle around one little waif of a girl, as she tries to circumvent isolation and loneliness. Kya, known to others as the Marsh Girl, lives a lonely life in an old marsh cabin, left on her own from an early age, trying to understand and accept her solitary existence.

Long after I have put this book down I will be thinking of the characters and setting of this book. Both were exquisitely written. Within just a few pages you are drawn into this world. You are set down in a marshland, taken back, where things were, as they always have been. Space, time and distance melt away and you are there, silently moving alongside the characters, bringing them to life. Smelling the brackish water, hearing the drone of insects, watching the birds fly. The author gives you the visual, the characters give you the familiarity.

This is a book that will take your breath away. Not one to be missed.
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
by Beth Macy
Macy humanized this story... (11/14/2018)
For me this was a book that needed a bit of time, after reading, to be able to review it. The author Beth Macy is a favorite author of mine. I enjoy the way she lays her information out. Every book I have read by her was about a vastly different subject, but all were researched well and, although non fiction, were presented in a story-like offering.

Obvious by the title, this book speaks to the opioid scourge that is, and has been, striking destruction across the United States since the 1996 introduction of Oxycontin. This book covers the first onset by the Pharma Manufacturing Company to the latest remarks by U.S. President Trump and the various drug use bringing us to that point.

Pharma put the drug out for pain relief, doctors were ignorant of the addiction abilities and Pharma claimed that any addiction was minor in comparison to pain relief. Millions of pills went into unsuspecting hands. The Appalachian area was hardest hit. People were losing jobs, economy was at an all time low, depression was rampant. It was not unheard of for over 60,000 pills to be distributed in one week in this area. Martinsville Va had more Oxycontin prescribed than any other place in the United States. Teen football players were dying of overdoses.

These overdose deaths have gone on for years. In the last 15 years 300,000 deaths have been caused by the wrongful use of Oxycontin. That same number, 300,000 deaths, will happen again, within the next 5 years. By the year 2020 more deaths will have been caused by the overdose of Oxycontin than all deaths caused by HIV-Aids, since the beginning of the Aids epidemic.

Macy humanized this story by telling the personal battles of a number of people, both those addicted and the families of those who have passed. She chose the Roanoke area as her research grounds.

The word "Dopesick" refers to the sickness that a drug addict experiences when they are coming down off their drug of choice. This is the point in time that addicts are at their worst. They will usually do anything to get their hands on drugs to prevent that feeling. Hence, the circular trap - they are no longer seeking that 'high', but seeking a fix to prevent being dopesick.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
by Anissa Gray
Paying for regret... (11/5/2018)
Relationships - terrifying! And when they are relationships between a Mother and her daughter they become even more confusing, more highly emotional and possibly more devastating. Then add in relationships with siblings, runaways, lies and prison and you have this amazing debut novel from Anissa Gray.

Right from the first sentence, "You do a lot of thinking in jail.", this book grabbed me and took me on a great ride. I enjoyed both the current and the back story of the characters, feeling that the characters were well developed and diverse enough to be entertaining. The story was not your usual story of a down trodden town in a bad economic turn, but personalized by the hurt and guilt of one daughter turning against her mother.

This is an author that I intend to follow. I find her work in fiction to be page turning and realistic.
Force of Nature: A Novel
by Jane Harper
Five start out...four return (10/30/2018)
Jane Harper has done it again. Staying in the Australian vein, again engaging with Detective Aaron Falk, this second book of the series is another great who-done-it. Her first book, The Dry, was exceptionally good, both in story plot and writing. This second book is also outstanding.

Five woman go on a weekend corporate retreat into a forest range. Four women come back out. While five men from the same corporation are also hiking, in their own direction, they have no lasting problems. Whereas the women find trouble every step of the way. What makes it worse is that none of the women really like each other - even though two are identical twins. This weekend trip is also marred by family problems, problems for one of the men and also one of the women. Having to surrender their cell phones is bad enough, but finding out that the one phone that was sneaked in cannot pick up a signal, ends up being a point of contention.

Each chapter gives you a glimpse of the current day and also a time frame from the retreat. Aaron Falk, actually investigating the corporation for something totally different, is drawn into the missing persons case. Each chapter brings you closer to finding the missing person, but also explains how she became missing. Interesting double story process to carry all the way through the book, but Harper did a great job in pulling it off. Once you start this story it is hard to put it down.
The Winter Soldier
by Daniel Mason
Starts slow and builds up speed.... (10/6/2018)
I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. I felt it read like a foreign dictionary. I was disappointed. I so liked Mason's book The Piano Tuner and was excited to get a chance to read this one. I had so much trouble starting this novel that I almost set it aside. I realize now that having done that would have been a loss for me.

Lucius, dreams of being a surgeon. Much to his Mothers disappointment he enters the military during WW1. He ends up in an abandoned church being used as a field hospital in Lemnowice, in the Carpathian Mountains. He expects his training to continue, but instead finds himself as the only surgeon there, a surgeon unsure of himself and thoroughly inexperienced. Under deplorable conditions he finds Sister Margarete in charge. Under her tutelage, Lucius learns quickly and takes over his role as surgeon.

Shattering presence, heart wrenching, unconscionable pain and suffering, all vivid for the reader to visualize. This story is plot-driven, is full of action, springs forth with brutal detail, and may not end as you desire. However, it truly has the mark of Mason, excellence.
A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel
by John Boyne
A life in chapters... (10/6/2018)
This may be book that you will love to hate, or hate to love? Boyne did a fabulous job on the three separate chapters. He pulled them all together by high-lighting one person, Maurice Swift. Each chapter told by a different person, each chapter a different period in life, and each chapter more absorbing than the last.

Maurice Swift's deepest desire is to be a novelist. Through each period of his life, he is able to publish a book. It is his method however, that leaves a lot to be desired.

It was unique the way Boyne pulled the life of Maurice Swift together. While reading chapter two I was missing the players in the first chapter and was also taken a bit off guard. I did not feel lost exactly, but it took a minute to understand the change in the protagonists life due to the second chapter being told by a different narrator.

John Boyne has an aptitude to grab you with his writing and project you through the story. Each book I have read by Boyne has been unique and very satisfying. His stories just absorb you and carry you along - on a trip that you do not regret taking.
Sold on a Monday
by Kristina McMorris
Sincer, Absorbing, Historical read... (8/29/2018)
Great historical story set in 1931 Pennsylvania. Based on the research of a factual picture showing a sign selling 4 children on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 - the desperation of just one family. McMorris, after following up with the children in that picture and learning of their sordid life after being sold, made the decision to write this book.

Centered around a journalist who is trying to become a headlining reporter, Ellis Reed, writes a story after seeing a sign which advertises two children for sale. Having to recreate the picture, since it was accidentally destroyed, he later finds out that the children in the staged picture were actually sold. His journey begins as he tries to set his mistake right.

McMorris did a really good job on this book. Based on a true situation it had the feel of realism, as something that could easily have happened in the past. The tension builds as the story sucks you into it's world. Her characters, of which there are few, drove this story. Each character was going through their own problems and struggling to find a solution, a safe place. A sincere, absorbing historical read.
Vox
by Christina Dalcher
Possible - maybe... (8/29/2018)
Now this is my type of science fiction. There were no aliens, no grotesque monsters, other world planets or space travel. Just a super unnatural futuristic twist on every day life. What can happen in the years to come? What happens when you ignore what is happening? When you refuse to become involved? When you don't add your voice and ideas and you just take things as they come? This is the science fiction that gets in your mind and sits there and brews, and bubbles, and makes you wonder ... is this possible? Unrealistic, maybe. Possible, maybe.

Thanks to the wrong people being in power, there is a divide between men and women, male and female. Striving to put the men of the family back in power, all females are required to wear a wrist band. This band counts the words that are spoken. The total amount allotted is 100 words a day. If you go over your allotment you receive a shock - a shock that gets stronger the longer you speak, with all additional words spoken.

Women who worked outside the home are now not allowed to do that - they must be homemakers. Men have no such restrictions. Men are being put back in power to run their families, to run their cities, to run the United States. There is security and cameras everywhere. It is called the Pure Movement.

Jean McClellan was a scientist. Married to Patrick with four children. She was angry, as most women were. She wanted better for her daughter, better for herself. Then the call came that changed everything. The men in power wanted her back in her lab, at any cost.

So what happens when we do not get involved? How difficult can our world become, the world of the ones we love? Do we go along to get along, or are we caving in to a power that we might not want?

Unrealistic, maybe. Possible....
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel
For the love of the cat... (8/28/2018)
Such a great little read - light, but with so much moxie. You can read this and see a light little humorous cat loving novella or you can read it as strengthful, inspiring, message-giving prose.

Narrated in part by Nana, the cat, we see life from both Satoru's view and also from the cat's. Going from an injured stray cat to one who would give his life for his master, Nana is an intricate character in the novel. Inspiration comes from the way Satoru lives his life.

This is the story of a dying man, much in love with his cat, who has not always had the fairest or best path in life handed to him. Unbeknownst to all his friends, Satoru is trying to find a forever home for his cat, Nana, while he is still able, before his young life comes to an end.

This book was translated from Japanese. I find that Japanese authors are wonderful at parables. There is always so much meaning behind their stories, and this one is no exception. (less)
Sometimes I Lie
by Alice Feeney
OMG! What did I just read?? (7/15/2018)
OMG! What did I just read?? This book pushed me to keep turning pages. And with each page I turned it became more confusing and less clear - but I could not put it down! Just when I thought I might be beginning to understand - ZAP! - another twist that took me right back to total oblivion.

There is no one you can trust in this novel. Amber tells us from the get-go that she lies, so we know we are going to face an unreliable narrator. The story is told in 3 part; Amber before a bad accident, Amber during a coma - or is it a coma?, and the third part is from childhood journals. One thing that needs to be determined is who is Amber, who is Taylor, who is Claire? Who is evil?

The ending is one of the biggest twists. I have my own theory, but I am not 100 sure. And I think that is what the author wanted. There is scuttle-butt that there is a follow up novel in the works, but that may just be rumor from those who hope to have the author clear up the twists of the ending.

It is not often that an author can so totally confuse the majority of their readers. This is not a novel to breeze through - to follow you must be attentive, because if you are not you will be totally lost. And even being attentive, does not guarantee that you will solve all the twists or the unexpected ending.
Clock Dance: A Novel
by Anne Tyler
Strong, practical and magical... (7/15/2018)
Anne Tyler happens to be one of my favorite authors. She can take a can of beans and make a whole meal out of it. Very talented author who writes about the everyday, often mundane parts of every mans life. I have always found her character development to be strong, her story line to be practical and her voice to be magical.

In this new book, Willa Drake moves through time. It starts with her in high school, at home with her family, moves to her college days and marriage, then on to the birth of her children and the loss of her husband.

Her next chapter in life is to surrogate-parent the ex-girlfriend of her oldest son, along with that ex's daughter. This is where Willa finally starts to see herself as a person and come to terms with her life, both past and present. Her new friends quietly set her on a path of self discovery and Willa starts running full steam ahead.
Our House
by Louise Candlish
a problem where ever he goes... (7/15/2018)
There is a saying that a frustrated woman will often use when it comes to understanding a man ~ 'He will be the death of me" ! Nothing better can explain this book.

We find Fi and Bram unhappily married with two sons, two careers and a wonderful expensive old home in the best of neighborhoods in London. From the outside they seem to be a stable, fairly-happy married couple with equivalent friends involved in community and school functions. But underneath there are a lot of lies and infidelities that take a toll on their marriage. They soon split up, and devise a cohabiting existence for the health and welfare of their sons.

It appears that Bram is the deceitful partner. Basically just a bad seed. Bram causes problems where ever he goes. He has been involved in a number of problems that are coming back to bite him, most of which Fi knows nothing about. One of his indiscretions leads to a major accident, that is witnessed by a man even more despicable than Bram himself.

Bram feels there is only one way out of this dilemma, but before he takes that action, he must set some things right. How does his big finale, his big sacrifice for Fi and his boys turn out?

As I said, Bram causes problems where ever he goes...
The Last Ballad
by Wiley Cash
Cash has done it again!! (6/6/2018)
Written in the true-to-life battle of workers rights, Wiley Cash does what he is so good at.

It is 1929 in Appleton County North Carolina and Ella Mae Wiggins struggles to make ends meet. Ella works in the American Mill #2 - designated mill #2 because they employee African Americans in that mill. Ella is Caucasian, and not only works with but lives in the part of town that African Americans live in. Hers is the only white family there. Likewise, she is paid less money because she works alongside African Americans. She cannot make ends met. When offered a ride to a union rally, Ella accepts. Little did she know how involved she would become as a union leader.

The story is told years later by her daughter, reveling the bitter and tragic life of her Mother. This novel outlines the early struggles of the labor movement in the Appalachian south. It was based on a true story.

This is Cash's third novel. He continues to amaze. Like the author John Hart, you impatiently wait for the next book published and cannot get it in your hands quickly enough.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
A story so well researched... (6/6/2018)
Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from the early 1900's in both New Jersey and Illinois, the transcripts and family histories, pictures and quotations, the number of documents alone had to have numbered into the thousands. Extremely well put together factual story that reads like a novel from the victims point of view. Kudos to Ms Moore.

Radium was not always known to be the deadly chemical that it is today. Many, many young women understood it to be very safe and even a wonder drug to be ingested freely. Until the young women who worked with it on a daily basis, with factories in both New Jersey and Illinois, started to become ill. Within months they lost all their teeth, their jaw bones crumbled, they started showing signs of bone cancer, losing limbs, even losing their lives. Their employer, the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), who suggested they "lip" the paint brushes they used in their job, insisted that the radium was not the cause of any of their workers ailments. It took the death of many young women and 38 years for the USRC to lawfully be deemed liable and forced to pay out benefits to any of the young women.

In the early 40's USRC factories were raised. The rubble was taken to land fills. It takes radium 1500 years to disintegrate past the point of being lethal, which means everywhere that the rubble from those buildings were spread, in both Orange, New Jersey and Ottawa Illinois and their surrounding areas, is still contaminated. Buried in the earth, under houses, close to water supplies, just waiting for the possibility to infect its next victims. In 1979 the EPA ordered the successor of USRC to start an environmental clean up in both areas. As of 2015 the radium clean up is still in process.

On the good side, this long deadly battle that our courageous fore-sisters fought brought to law the culpability of an employer being responsible for on the job safety and the beginning of the Industrial Occupational Hazards law.
Clock Dance: A Novel
by Anne Tyler
Classic Anne Tyler ... (6/6/2018)
Anne Tyler happens to be one of my favorite authors. She can take a can of beans and make a whole meal out of it. Very talented author who writes about the everyday, often mundane parts of every mans life. I have always found her character development to strong, her story line to practical and her voice to be magical.

In this new book, Willa Drake moves through time. It starts with her in high school, at home with her family, moves to her college days and marriage, then on to the birth of her children and the loss of her husband. Her next chapter in life is to surrogate-parent the ex-girlfriend of her oldest son, along with that ex's daughter. This is where Willa finally starts to see herself as a person and come to terms with her life, both past and present. Her new friends quietly set her on a path of self discovery and Willa starts running full steam ahead.
The Summer Wives
by Beatriz Williams
Island Secrets (5/23/2018)
Although I have heard that Beatriz Williams was a good author, I had never read her before. I do have a number of her books on my TBR list however. Now that I have read one of her books, all the rest of them need to be elevated to the top of my reading list. I found her character development to be superb. The story line was well thought out and flowed well, while bouncing between the years of 1930, 1951 and 1969 and alternating between Miranda Schuyler Thomas and Bianca Medeiro.

An Island of summer homes, where the rich and elite vacationed throughout each summer. Miranda was thrown into the mix when her mother married Hugh and Isobel's father. One of her first acquaintances on the Island was the son of the light house keeper, Joseph, one of the poorer working-year-round residents. As the summer draws to a close Miranda is banished from the Island and Joseph is imprisoned for murder.

Eighteen years later Miranda returns to the Island, still being dismissed by the social elite. Joseph has escaped from prison - is he back at the Island? Isobel, who had always laid claim to Joseph, is still as spoiled and remains in the inner circle of popularity. Miranda wants to reignite the love she had for Joseph and prove his innocence. It does not take long for the Island's secrets to begin to unravel.
The Mars Room: A Novel
by Rachel Kushner
Blatant Sex.... (5/23/2018)
I waited impatiently for this book to be published and obtained by my library, then I picked up the CD set. I got through 4 of 9 discs - barely.

I really wanted to like this book. I have never read Rachel Kushner before - and may never again - if this is typical of her work. However, I expected to like this book because I read and enjoy a lot of fiction and non-fiction accounts of prisons and prisoners, in both historical and current situations. And the pre-publication hype for this book was outstanding- which should have been my first warning. Had the author stayed with her primary character and wrote about her life, before, during and after prison, I would probably still be listening. I found the problem not only with the language and sexual content that Kushner used, but with random inclusion of the extra characters. The content was so blatant and in your face as to be written for a sex magazine. I am far from a prude, but there is a technique to tell that very same story but in a not-so-offending-way that was not done in this book.

This account of this story made me sad. It is a good premise and could be a good story. I just found that the author took too many liberties with my tolerance and her intended shock value ruined the pleasure I got from reading it. This is definitely not a book that I would recommend to anyone.
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