Reviews by Sandi W.

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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.
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.
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.
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.
Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield
mastery of detail and readability (2/6/2019)
4.5 stars

I loved this book. It not only attests to the excellent story telling of the author, but it held me in awe of it's mastery of detail and readability. I felt that the story was enthralling, but the attention to detail and story follow up, along with the touch of magical realism, was wonderful. Setterfield's style and technique is above most.

Wonderful folklore about the Thames River. Mostly set in the Swan Inn, where tales are told. Until that frightful night that an unknown man staggers in with a lifeless girl in his arms.

Splendid, charming story, told in an enchanting way, by an excellent story teller.
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
imagination and brilliant storytelling (2/6/2019)
How refreshing! Just a really nice novel with a general fiction story line. Set in Australia, in the very outback, with minimal characters and subtle plot surrounding a family. The novel speaks of love, relationships, heredity, loss and endurance. Of how things are handed down in a family, both by nature and by nurture, or the lack thereof. Somewhat of a mystery, somewhat of a love story, but definitely a well written novel.

Well written, as expected from Jane Harper, the author of the Aaron Falk series. Harper takes you right into the story and makes you a character, as she also does the landscape. You may not have a speaking part, but you are there nonetheless. Feeling the pain, the joy and confusion of each of her characters. She writes with a freshness that eludes a lot of authors, and a straightforwardness that gives you that immediate sense of belonging. And not surprising, is that you welcome the opportunity to be swept away in her imagination and brilliant storytelling.
Sugar Run
by Mesha Maren
strings left dangling (2/6/2019)
I am not sure exactly what it was that I was expecting or waiting for in this book, but it never seemed to materialize. For a debut novel there was plenty of action in the story, some good character development and a plausible plot, but for me it just missed the mark.

The story of a young Appalachian girl imprisoned for manslaughter. Once released she headed home to claim the land that had been in her family for generations, only to find that the homestead had been sold out from under her and the mountain was deeply involved in the fracking process. Hooking up with a tumultuous group of people, Jodie was never at peace.

I didn't care for the abrupt ending of the story and felt that there were still strings left dangling. I came away from this novel unfulfilled and a bit disappointed.
Waiting for Eden
by Elliot Ackerman
genius of consciousness (2/6/2019)
Given the time to think about this book for the last two days, I have changed my rating from 4 stars to 5 stars. Not many books get this rating from me, but in afterthought I truly believe that this book should be one of them.

Such a sad book. Sad, from the narrator of the story, to the circumstance of the story, all the way to the end of the story. Sad can only describe the situation of the story being told, but it is so instructional and thought provoking in it's element. Pain, relationship, loyalty, communication, fear, loss; this novel touches on each, and not only gives you their insight, but awakens you to at least start to think about what each of these emotions mean to you.

I began to truly love each of these characters and to empathize with their individual positions. Who seeks death and why? Is there a 'between space'? Who stops in the 'between space'? Ackerman has written with the genius of consciousness, what no man can truly convey.
Old Newgate Road
by Keith Scribner
our past can predict our future (2/6/2019)
This is one of the better novels I have read that relates to men. A story of three generations, son, father and grandfather, all different. But all still trying to move through the guilt of the past.

Although I thought that this book started off a bit slow, it took no time to become involved in the lives of these three men. Phil, the grandfather, released from prison, squatting at the old homestead and trying to fight off Alzheimers. Cole, the main character, home to help his father and try to rebuild the old colonial house. And Daniel, sent to this tobacco producing farmland for the summer, to keep him out of trouble. Each one as different as night and day, yet bound together by stories from the past.

This is my first book by Keith Scribner. It was a good introduction to an author that I intend to read again. His story was easy to read, kept me involved, and showed the comparisons and contrasts between not only generations from the same family, but also with other families of men from that same time frame and geographical area, detailing how our past can predict our future, but also direct our dreams.
The Hiding Place
by C. J. Tudor
Authors second book... (2/6/2019)
For those unaware, this book has a second title - The Taking of Annie Thorne.

This is the second book written by C. J. Tudor. I was very quick to secure a copy of it because I liked The Chalk Man so well. Sadly, I must say that the two books are very dissimilar.

I liked this book up to and a bit beyond the half way mark. Then, for me, it just kind of fluttered out. Although it was starting to answer questions from the first half, the rest of the book, in my opinion, remained just mediocre. I felt a build up, then a let down.

I try not to compare books, even by the same author, but... this book did not give me near the satisfaction that Chalk Man did. I think that if you are not an exceptional author then the alternating story line is hard to pull off with any glowing reaction. In this case, I would much rather have read the story of the children, then moved on to the adult story line. I had become invested in the characters, but the story was not up to the level of keeping the characters most interesting. Premise was there, but, for me, the story line faltered, even with the twists at the end.

This novel was not so bad that I will not read Tudor again, I just will not be jumping on her next book quite as quickly. I am hoping that this book was the rushed and stressed follow up to Chalk Man, and that her next book will maintain the level of mastery that she previously proved she has the ability to put forth.
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.
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good
by Helene Tursten
just a little devil (2/6/2019)
What a charming little book. Translated from Swedish, being made into a TV series in Sweden, I feel cheated that we are not also getting it in the United States.

Eighty-eight year old Maud is just a little devil. Set, and solitary, in her ways and always looking for the solution to her next problem. That solution, involving a bit of murder, does not dissuade her.

Humorous to the point of laughing out loud funny, this book is light, relaxed and enjoyable. The entertainment value far exceeds the minimal amount of pages in this little gem. Not one to be missed.
The Affairs of the Falcons
by Melissa Rivero
Heart wrenching... (1/7/2019)
Unsettled, desperate and heart wrenching, this story takes us into the lives of one undocumented immigrant family. Afraid to go home and afraid to stay, the Falcons are left living off family, struggling to find work, learning the language, avoiding crime and fitting into their new world. Turning to a loan shark Ana fears her undocumented status, along with the horrors she must face to remain in the United States. Looking for opportunity, running from danger, and striving to fit in, this story is the epitome of the immigrant population in today's world.

Rivero's debut book has hit the heart of the plight of the immigrant population of today. She sees the obstacles and demands of the undocumented. She writes of their hopes and strong will, their struggles and fears, their tenacity to move above life's hardships and to push forward when that path is nothing but hard work and uncertainty. If Rivero continues to hit the mark, as she has done in this book, she will be an author in great demand.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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