Reviews by Sandi W.

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Her Kind of Case: A Lee Isaacs, Esq. Novel
by Jeanne Winer
Winer writes to her own experiences - wonderful! (5/24/2019)
There are not many books that get a 5 star rating from me. However this book rose right to the top. I had to often remind myself that this book is fiction. In story and character it ranked right up there with the true crime books that I often read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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