Reviews by Sandi W.

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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.
The Pisces
by Melissa Broder
Reader Beware... (5/23/2018)
I am usually pretty good at picking out books that satisfy me just from their synopsis. However I really missed the mark with this book. Noted, I am not a great fantasy fan, but I do read it from time to time and felt that I was ready for a good contemporary fantasy. The prime word in that sentence was "good". That is not how I found this book to be.

On every page this author dropped the "F" bomb, among other choice words. The sex in this book was overly graphic and detailed, among her many, many male conquests. The story would have been more likely appreciated in a magazine like Hustler. The first half dozen chapters were boring. The meat of the story did not start until half way through the book. The only redeemable part of the book was Dominic, her sister's foxhound, who she ended up killing.

For me, this book was just over the top. I would have put it down by chapter 6 if I had not been reading it for Hogarth Press. I don't mind a few swear words or a well placed love scene if it is appropriate to the story, but, in my opinion, this novel has gone way overboard to the point of being distasteful.

This is a book that should have the forewarning of "Reader beware."
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
by Gabrielle Zevin
Curmudgeon in a bookstore.... (4/26/2018)
Cold self-contained A J Fikry owns an island book store - a book store that is not currently profitable. Add to this, a very expensive book - his planned retirement - has been stolen. He does not especially warm up the public or to his book salesmen, however one pretty lady, Amelia, finally catches his eye. He also becomes more human when little Maya is left in his store and he takes on the duty of caring for her.
Taking a second chance on life, we see A J make changes and turn his island book store around, while also opening his heart and finding love.
Not the book I expected, but a readable light romance.
Sunburn
by Laura Lippman
Secrets abound... (4/26/2018)
Great book of secrets and suspense. Even though I don't like love stories, this romance was so much more. Two people, Polly and Adam, found each other when they were both very vulnerable. Each had their own secrets, each running from something, each working towards something, as their summer affair boiled.

Then came a death. Was it planned? Was it an accident? How does life go on? What does the future hold for Adam and Polly? A great little novel full of secrets.

Laura Lippman the author is right on with this novel. Great suspense, good character development, just the right amount of romance to carry the story. She keeps you turning the pages, reading more, wanting more, trying to decide the outcome of the story. It surprised me, and made this book very enjoyable.
The Only Story
by Julian Barnes
Another Barnes Masterpiece (4/26/2018)
In this wonderful rendition of a young man in love with an older woman Barnes once again does a masterful job. Much like the premise of The Sense of an Ending, we see the older man looking back on his youth. We see how the youth was shaped into a man by the experience of his first love. As he reminisces we see how his perspective changes throughout the years. We see his memory revisit his first love - and how he changes as time and circumstance move forward.

Julian Barnes is an excellent author. His prose is like closing your eyes and letting a mesmerizing melody float you away. You see his characters - you understand his characters - you live along side his characters. The only problem I have with a Julian Barnes novel is the last page. I am always sad when his stories end.
The French Girl
by Lexie Elliott
Who killed Severine.... (1/18/2018)
On the last night of their stay in a French farmhouse Severine was killed. Six college friends were on holiday and Severine was from the neighboring farmhouse. It took 10 years for the cold case to be reopened and to bring everyone back together. Severine's body has been found. Everyone is a suspect. However it is Kate Channing who is visited by the memories of Severine and also appears to be the prime suspect for the murder. Does she have an alibi, does any of her 5 college friends? Once they are brought back together it is obvious what each of them have to lose. Will the murderer be found before they lose everything - to focus on one person and ignore the rest may be the biggest mistake.

I found Lexie Elliot to be easy to read. Having not read her before, I found the development of her characters to be very good. The story seemed to lurk just out of sight around a dark corner as you waited for answers that were just out of reach. Her writing allowed you to follow strings randomly crisscrossing, then starting to align so that they led to one point - but is it possible to predict that point? Elliot was good at worming her way into your subconscious, until the words said and unsaid, and the series of disclosures brought you to the things that were as they always had been.
The Graybar Hotel: Stories
by Curtis Dawkins
Prison life (1/3/2018)
A book of 14 short stories, all related to prison life, written by an inmate incarcerated for murder. The stories are all fabrication taken from real life instances, played out among inmates, painting a picture of life behind bars in the desolate facade of our U.S. prisons.
The Dry
by Jane Harper
Page turner... (1/3/2018)
A strange note left on his desk takes Federal Agent Aaron Falk back to his home town, one he left 20 years prior on a bad note. He finds that his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, along with Luke's wife and son were murdered. The town wants to write it off as a murder/suicide due to the effects of the drought and appalling conditions the town has weathered in the last few years. The Hadlers are not so sure. Working with the one local law enforcement officer that also has questions - Aaron sets off to investigate this tragic situation. But in doing so, it brings back all the memories that Aaron has run from - and all the enemies that drove Aaron and his father out of town initially. The suicide, if it really was, of a girl that Aaron liked when he was a teenager.
I liked this book from page one. It kept me interested and wanting to turn the page. Twists and turns of all dimensions kept closing in on the truth. Good writing, well planned story, and happily just book one and the beginning of a series.
The French Girl
by Lexie Elliott
French holiday.... (12/27/2017)
Thank you to Berkley Books for this Advanced Reading Copy. Expected publication is February 20th 2018. My rating = 4 stars

On the last night of their stay in a French farmhouse Severine was killed. Six college friends were on holiday and Severine was from the neighboring farmhouse. It took 10 years for the cold case to be reopened and to bring everyone back together. Severine's body has been found. Everyone is a suspect. However it is Kate Channing who is visited by the memories of Severine and also appears to be the prime suspect for the murder. Does she have an alibi, does any of her 5 college friends? Once they are brought back together it is obvious what each of them have to lose. Will the murderer be found before they lose everything? To focus on one person and ignore the rest may be the biggest mistake.

I found Lexie Elliot to be an easy read. Having not read her before, I found the development of her characters to be very good. The story seemed to lurk just out of sight around a dark corner as you waited for answers that were just out of reach. Her writing allowed you to follow strings randomly crisscrossing, then starting to align so that they led to one point - but is it possible to predict that point? Elliot was good at worming her way into your subconscious, until the words said and unsaid, and the series of disclosures brought you to the things that were as they always had been.
The Chalk Man
by C. J. Tudor
A Tangled Story... (12/27/2017)
4.5 stars Thank you to Crown Publishing for this ARC. To publish Jan 9, 2018.

This story switched between 1986 and 2016. Our protagonist, Eddie, and his group of friends, Micky, Gav, Hoppo and the lone girl, Nicky were inseparable. The 12 year olds biked to the playground, river and woods during the heat of the summer in 1986. Their personalities and family lives were very different, but their bond was strong. Until that day. The day they found another friend mutilated in the woods.

In 2016 the death of Elise, the girl in the woods, still haunts Eddie. As the tangled story starts to unwind we see the actual involvement of each of the four friends, along with a teacher, a reverend, and the families of the four friends.

This was a very good mystery. It kept you guessing at each twist and turn. However you needed to place the correct blame at each twist to guess the identity of the person to blame. This book worked well switching between time frames, more so than the abundance of current books using this format. Tudor is a new author for me, but one I will watch in the future.
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
Descriptive writing trumps author error (9/2/2017)
I don't like books that do not use quotation marks to indicate conversation! I took off .5 stars for no quotation marks. In my opinion, that shows laziness in an author.

3.5 stars

Now with that said -
Overall I did enjoy this book. It was just different enough from what I have been reading to be enjoyable. In addition the outcome was what I had wished for all along in the story.

An elderly traveling news reader in the year 1870. A friend asks him to return a 10 year old Kiowa captured girl to her German relatives just outside San Antonio. The story follows their treacherous trail down to and through Texas - full of warring Indians, everyday thieves, and disreputable Army troops. It also tells of the advancement of Johanna under the Captains tutelage.

Probably most noted in this novel is the wonderful descriptions and wordage of the author. Everything from Johanna's dress to the landscape is made visual by Jiles. You feel as if you are sitting right there watching this novel play out before your eyes. You smell the smells, you see the colors. For me, it was this visualization that made the book.
Little Nothing
by Marisa Silver
Fable/Folklore (8/23/2017)
Really hard for me to review this book. It was good - for me - because this is the type book-break I needed. However, at a different time and place I might not have liked this book as much as I did.

A fable, folklore, mystical - all apply, but really don't describe this book. It tells the story of a deformed girl, Pavla, who was scorned, even originally by her Mother, who ended up in a traveling circus side show. She meets Danilo - who is part of her act. He falls in love with her. Over time she morphs into a wolf and runs away. Danilo searches for her, finds her more than once, and saves her. By stories end, she has morphed back into a human - one imprisoned. Danilo finds her again. However Pavla is not done "becoming". The end of the book has another twist.

Left to determine your own story conclusion, I felt that I was left wanting. It would be nice to have a follow up story about Pavla, however I do not feel that is in the future. The writing was good, the story palatable, once you understand it's premise, and as I stated earlier, the book that I needed to interrupt my past reading collection.
The Heart's Invisible Furies: A Novel
by John Boyne
Another Boyne master piece.... (7/26/2017)
I have read a couple of John Boyne books before, so I was prepared for anything. Boyne takes on hard subjects and presents them relentlessly. I am aware that his themes and character development are beyond reproach. This particular book sucked me into its world. I found it to be a work far more subtle and powerful than the ordinary novel.

We followed Cyril Avery for 70 odd years - from the 1940s to 2015. The novel set in Ireland, Amsterdam and New York City covered man's nonacceptance of his fellow man, starting with the pregnancy of the unmarried woman in the 1940s and continuing through to gay bashing in the 1990s.

This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and most of all, it made me think. It read like a 300 page book, not the approximate 600 pages that it really is. Throughout there were strings randomly crisscrossing, and when they started to align, it lead to a very acceptable and well developed conclusion. Another great novel by Boyne.

Thank you Penguin Random House and BookBrowse for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Publication expected August 22, 2017. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
by Fredrik Backman
Not my cup of tea... (6/29/2017)
Let me start by saying I have loved all the other books I have read by Fredrick Backman, because...
I am sure that my review of this book will go against the main stream....however....

Had this been the first book I read by Backman I would have stopped there. I really disliked this book. The absolute only redeeming quality that I felt it had was the cross over of characters from his other books. Luckily I had already read "A Man Called Ove" and "Britt-Marie".
I felt that there was way too much time and too many pages put into the fairy tales. A bit of back story was needed, but I was tired of the non-stop fairly tale descriptions long before Granny died.
I finished this book, but it took all I had to continue to pick it back up. I tried hard not to gladly tossed it aside.
This being his second book I would have thought it to be much better, having enjoyed his first and third books. Too much nonsensical idiotic fantasy descriptions for my liking. I could not even disguise this stuff as magical realism. Definitely not my cup of tea.
When She Woke: A Novel
by Hillary Jordan
Man's inhumanity to man (6/29/2017)
I enjoyed this book with its parallel to the Scarlet Letter. It shows what inhumanities our society is capable of. Altho Hannah would not have been my friend I could empathize with her.The writing made me push for a conclusion. 3.5 stars
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel
by Elizabeth L. Silver
The difference of a few chapters.... (6/29/2017)
Starting this book I had high expectations - the synopsis was good, the premise was wide open and I was ready for the best. The first quarter of the book was left to details of Noa's life , prior trial and prison. I did feel that this may have lasted a bit longer than was necessary ~~ background is good, but after a while you just want to move on with the story and get to the meat of the book. With that said, I do believe that this is Silver's first novel and all in all this was a minor flaw in an overall good book. The next half of the book dealt with Noa's crime and her imprisonment. This was never in question ~~ she was guilty ~~ and calmly awaiting her execution date. However in the last quarter of the book was when the plot thickened. This is the portion of the story that took me from 3 stars to 4 stars. For a new author I felt that the cause and effect elements and the number of surprises in this last portion were excellent. Things were not as they had appeared and twists just kept coming. Well worth the slow beginning to see it appear much differently as the story ends. This is an author that I will definitely read again.
The Stars Are Fire
by Anita Shreve
Not only surviving but prospering... (6/14/2017)
4.5 stars

Few people can write like Anita Shreve. Once she determines a topic she takes control.
This is the story of a woman not only surviving but prospering.
Due to a fast moving wild fire following a drought in Maine in 1947, many towns and cities were totally wiped out. Grace, pregnant, is alone with her two children to make her way to safety, her husband Gene has left to fight the fires. Nothing is saved. The small family is rescued, none to soon, and given shelter by a loving couple whose home skirted the fire. Gene is missing. Grace takes control and makes decisions that are best for her, her children and her Mother, who also survived. The next year is both heaven and hell for Grace. She goes through the best of times and the worst of times, until once again she is homeless. However her plight is not yet over.
This is a story of courage and sacrifice. It follows the ups and downs of both marriage and life in general; the deepest of valleys and brightest of days, turmoil and peace.
House of Names
by Colm Toibin
Greek Tragedy (6/14/2017)
I tell you this man can take a muddy puddle and make you think it is a fresh spring shower!!
I thought I was done with mythology back in college. I had two literature classes devoted to mythology and thought I had read and reviewed it all. However, with all the authors coming out with up to date revised books on the Bard and mythology I am thoroughly enjoying the stories.
This is not only one of my favorite authors, but it is his rendition of a Greek tragedy. Toibin's writing literally just takes me away.
This is the story of King Agamemnon and his betrayal of his family, as he focuses on the coming war. The death of one daughter, the loss of his son and then the revenge of his wife takes place. His wife having taken in an enemy of the kingdom, to help her plot her revenge, gets her remaining daughter to lie for her and in the name of protection, exiles her son at the hand of her accompanying accomplice. Years go by before the son finds his way home, but not until after the death of his father. The two remaining children must then put the kingdom back to it rights - however they can.
Written beautifully, Toibin carries you through the times and customs of this Greek tragedy as if you were reading a current day novel.
No One Is Coming to Save Us
by Stephanie Powell Watts
No connection... (4/30/2017)
Sorry to say I found no connection to this book. I did not connect with the characters or the story. I saw little to no resemblance to the classic The Great Gatsby. I was however able to make each character's association to this book title. They all had varying problems and were looking for a savior.
I think the author did a good job of making you visualize her characters. You could even see them through their speech, although there were parts of this story that for me just did not make any sense. One conversation between Jay and Sylvia, about Barack Obama, went from him saying he "missed his mother and they weren't making him president" to Sylvia saying, in the very next line, that she "had not changed her phone number. " I saw absolutely no connection there, nor in a couple of other instances where this separation of thought happened.
Other than a basic liking of Jay - aka J J - I did not like any other character. Sylvia was worn out and boring. She did not seem to have a very good grasp at times. She did things that the normal woman her age would never do - however desperate she was. Ava was a spoiled brat, too good for those around her. She had had her share of problems, but gave me the impression she expected others to clear them up for her as she whined about her life's position. Jay seemed to be the only smart one of the bunch, even though he was deceiving himself that what he originally ran from, would wait for him. Most of these characters make a shift towards the end of the book, but for me it was way too late by then.

I will try this author again, in hopes of relating better to a different book. Thank you to Book Browse for the book in exchange for an honest review.
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Dysfunctional... (4/23/2017)
2.5 stars
The story line in this novel was a great idea. It started out with a lot of potential. The authors prose was easy to read and I felt overall her words moved well. The problem stemmed from all the unneeded characters and extras that were thrown into this story. They were very confusing, drug the premise of the story down, parts were just plain boring, hard for any main character follow through, and just way too many characters. Although easy to read, page by page, this book was easy to put down and hard to pick back up.

This is the story of 4 siblings who expected to gain a sizeable inheritance from their deceased father, once the youngest turned 40 years old. However before that happened one of the siblings got into a bad car wreck and their mother, guardian of the inheritance, signed away all the money to keep that child out of litigation. The story tells of each siblings reason for needing the money and how the one who benefited from all the money planned to pay his sibling back.

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