Reviews by RebeccaR

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Morningside Heights: A Novel
by Joshua Henkin
Very Realistic and Engaging (4/14/2021)
I enjoyed this novel about the culture-loving Braithwaite family (dad- an opera singer) in New York because the so-called revitalization or gentrification of neighborhoods has been a very real issue for people I know. Quaint neighborhoods with lovely backyards are suddenly areas where a single-story home's back yard never has any sunshine because you are surrounded by two and three story McMansions. In the case of this book, it is New York apartment life, and the activities of the residents are fun, American social commentary. Part of the interest in this book is the fact that Morningside Heights is part of the real Manhattan, New York.
Eternal Life
by Dara Horn
Unforgettable; Makes the Book's Premise Seem Believable (12/1/2020)
To start off, let me urge prospective readers to NOT read detailed book reviews which contain spoilers. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the surprise factor. Eternal Life was different than I expected since it began in ancient Biblical times. I am not sure how I thought the author would handle transitions for Rachel, the female protagonist, to move on to more of her life, but I certainly was not prepared for how the protagonist moved on. While I hate to say too much and ruin the book for anyone, the transitions are extremely emotional -almost frightening at times. These events always seem to happen just when the reader is hoping Rachel's life can go on "as is" for a while longer. Of course, since Rachel's two-thousand years on Earth have to be a secret, the segue into the rebirth of a new, youthful Rachel must involve some cataclysmic events within the family being left behind.
When I started the book, I had not thought about the eventual need to leave as one's other family members -especially children- started aging. Author Dara Horn does an incredible job of capturing the intense emotions of everything from young love and letting hormones hijack clear thinking to the omnipresent undercurrent of sadness, of always knowing that one's current family is part of the cycle of life and will have to be left behind.

Will you, the reader, want to live forever at the end of the book? Highly unlikely. Every time you fall in love or give birth to a child or treasure your friends and family, you know they will die before you do or that you will have to leave them heartbroken when you must transition out of that era. Whew! I feel that this is an unforgettable story which just may leave readers more appreciative of the beauty in everyday life. It would be a good choice for book clubs because people could talk about poor choices in life, picking the wrong partner, parents' warnings that turned to have validity, and on and on. This might be a book that is more appealing for women. I am so glad that I read it!
At the Edge of the Haight
by Katherine Seligman
Realistic and Empathetic Without Being Judgmental (10/6/2020)
I understand why this book was the winner of The Pen/Bellwether prize for socially engaged fiction. First person narrator Madlynne (only 20 years old) has a life of homelessness, living on the streets of San Francisco. Sadly, she was pointed in that direction starting with her mother's mental illness followed by an uncaring foster home where food was strictly rationed and things like cookie packages were marked so that no child could take another cookie.

While many books promise to give readers an insider's view of name the situation or social program, author Katherine Seligman artfully avoids warning against bad choices, bad parenting, or bad society while also avoiding the over-glamorization of this alternative lifestyle. Instead, this novel empathetically pulls the reader into a realistic portrayal of homelessness and dumpster diving for food, along with sorrows of families who have lost someone to life on the streets. I don't think I will ever drive or walk by another homeless person without thinking of this book. I have always supported local, national, and international aid programs, but this book made me feel the relief of those homeless people who are able to grab a sweatshirt from a free clothing bin on a cold morning or who are grateful for some food that they can also share with their dog. Thank you to BookBrowse and Algonquin Books for the ARC.
Every Bone a Prayer
by Ashley Blooms
Loved the Basic Story (7/29/2020)
The lovely prose of Ashley Blooms’s book as well as the basic story line about the struggles of children living in the Appalachian Mountain hollers were 5 star. I immediately wanted to get to know Charlene, Misty and Penny, ages 8,10, and 12, respectively. I also thoroughly enjoyed Samantha who announces she is "Sam...everybody thinks I'm a girl, but I'm not. That's not me." The response of Penny is a delightful illustration of how immediately accepting children can be when she says, "I reckon you ought to know who you are" (page 111). Gender issues are handled with great sensitivity, as are the physical assault scenes. In fact, with the latter, readers may wonder at times if what they think is happening is also the actuality.

I enjoyed young Misty’s connection to nature and all living creatures. A couple of times I thought about Lois Lowry’s middle grade book THE GIVER, where a person with special capabilities could give memories to another human and perhaps save a life by transmitting memories of warm sunshine while lost in a freezing blizzard. However, in EVERY BONE A PRAYER, the stream of consciousness writing may not be appealing to typical younger audiences. For example, one sentence fills most of a page in chapter 21 with Misty’s stream of consciousness memories of scents and sounds. And while fantasy is a popular category in YA novels, I question younger readers’ receptivity of the magical glass sculptures in Misty’s holler. For me, the glass sculptures took me out of Misty’s compelling story and are the reason for my overall rating of 4 stars instead of 5.
Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters
by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Realistic Portrayal of Mary Lincoln's Mental Instability (6/14/2020)
The book began a little slow for me, but I was interested to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln and am glad that I kept going. Author Chiaverini did exhaustive research for this 331 page book; there is a lot to learn about the influential Todd family as well as life in general for women during the 1800's, including Mary Lincoln's status as the widow of a slain President. Most of all, it is clear that from a very young age Mary Todd Lincoln thought she was better than the vast majority of people, including her own sisters. Mary's excessive hubris, focus on materialistic possessions, and lack of empathy for others makes her a mostly unlikable character. I appreciate the fact that books such as this give realistic portrayals of famous people rather than some fantasy version that all of the political leaders in American history were wonderful, intelligent people with equally wonderful spouses. Previous accounts of Mary Lincoln usually attributed her sadness and depression to the death of her sons, but this book reveals a pattern of surprisingly self-centered and selfish behavior before she became a wife or mother. As the First Lady, she shocked some citizens with the amount of money she spent, particularly in light of the brewing political unrest and subsequent Civil War. Sadly, too, the child mortality rate in the 1800's meant that many women of all races suffered the same tragedy as Mrs. Lincoln, though few had the economic resources to have others care for them and only the elite could live in a spa-like asylum such as Belleview. It is easy to see why Robert, Mary's adult son and only surviving child, has her committed. Certainly, Mary's sisters are not fighting to free her or have Mary live with them.

Some segments of society questioned Mary Lincoln's sincerity in backing her husband's political platform of anti-slavery. After all, Mary Todd had grown up in a household with slaves. This included the Todd home before her Mary's mother died as well as after with her step-mother. The pace of historical fiction tends to be a little slower than other commercial fiction, and for me this was not a five star read. The chapters shifted back and forth between Mary's adult and earlier life, and this format - rather than a linear timeline - was probably necessary to hold the reader's interest. However, I appreciated receiving an ARC from Morrow/Harper Collins.
Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim
Riveting, Shocking, Disturbing - This book has it all. (4/18/2020)
Don't let the lengthy character list inside the front cover discourage you from reading this novel. The plot is truly unique and covers a wide range of emotions. Reviews which label this book as a courtroom drama simply do not do it justice; it would like saying the television series BREAKING BAD is about a science teacher with a health problem or that To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of an older dad who is a widower in a small town. Author Angie Kim weaves together the struggling Korean immigrant couple (the Yoo family) whose teenage daughter Mary is not totally thrilled with her new country. Still, Mary's lack of friends at school and privacy at home, particularly at her age, make her sympathetic.There is also a mixed-race couple (Matt Thompson and wife Janine Cho) who are enjoying their financial success as medical professionals despite a traumatic injury to radiologist Matt. However, characters whose names are further down on the list (which extends to a second page) have pivotal roles as well. There are some small town elements such as gossip, competitiveness among the mothers (who"mothers" best?) and emotional struggles while raising children with autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. The characters' lives become more deeply involved as a result of the experimental hyperbaric oxygenation treatment center. No character is left unaffected by the tragic event, and no reader will progress through the chapters without experiencing changing loyalties toward the characters. This is a book that lends itself to intense book club discussions.
He Started It
by Samantha Downing
Totally Enjoyable, Twisting and Turning Plot. (2/29/2020)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and perhaps part of the fun was that I had no idea what to suspect. I had not yet read author Samantha Downing's previous bestseller, MY LOVELY WIFE. The premise of the book sounded like a universal event - the death of a family member. The few additional details continued to sound enticing. There is going to be a reunion of some kind, involving a road trip with siblings that had not been particularly close; okay, that's certainly understandable since many people agree on the concept of friends being the family one chooses for oneself. However, nothing could have prepared for me this fun read. My memories of grandparents are all so positive that I still miss them to this day, but the grandfather of Portia, Eddie, and Beth was something else. In addition, the siblings all seem quite different, and their relationship issues from the past are going to be intensified by the multi-million dollar inheritance. It is one they can access only after they meet a very specific requirement. Here is where the lies, deceit, and lack of trust intensify since the money comes with a very personal twist orchestrated by deceased Grandpa himself. The road trip, which was not a pleasant memory, must be recreated.

Why was this road trip so bad? It wasn't just the usual hardships of periods of boredom, restlessness, and varying bathroom needs for everyone in the vehicle. This one involved a plethora of strange day trips as well as downright scary behavior at times from Grandpa who is the the 'HE' in the title. Beth even refers to him as an a- -hole at one point. Get ready for this twenty-years-later reunion, narrated by Beth, as the two-week road trip unfolds. Any family member who fails to complete the trip is out, but another provision in Grandpa's will - that anyone who ends up in jail is out- builds a lot of unexpected suspense. Why jail? People will have fun discussing this contemporary story with other readers, and I am so pleased to have been fortunate enough to read an ARC from BookBrowse!
The Paris Diversion: A Novel
by Chris Pavone
Wow- what a page turner! (12/18/2019)
This book has everything going for it - a fun Parisian setting, dangerous but believable situations, and characters who are realistically imperfect. They have a blend of both good and bad qualities that keep the reader guessing about what will happen next. Author Chris Pavone seems extremely knowledgeable about Paris, so readers who have traveled there will be able to picture the scenes perfectly.

One critic compared this book to John le Carre; that seems like a good match to give you an idea of the fast paced action. However, at the same time, Pavone weaves in the day-to-day life events of American ex-pats Kate Moore and her husband. The irritation of dealing with the "Hashtag Mom" who seems to plan her actions and comments around how well she can present her life on social media is a classic.

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

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

I look forward to the guided discussion of this book with others who received an ARC. I always appreciate an opportunity to read a book that I otherwise might not have chosen.
Force of Nature: A Novel
by Jane Harper
Enjoyable, Realistic, Scary - All in One! (12/5/2018)
For anyone who has ever groaned (audibly or mentally) about team-building exercises in the work place or corporate retreats to hash out (yet again) job or co-worker issues, then Jane Harper's novel will instantly strike home. However, no matter what one's occupation may have been or is now, this book is sure to keep you reading, even if you do not categorize yourself as a reader of mystery books, per se. The relationships between all of the office employees are on edge as they deal with a rigorous corporate retreat which involves hiking and map reading and compass usage to - supposedly- bring them all together. It is clear from the start that many f these people tolerate each other rather than like or respect one another; their personal competitiveness is a realistic aspect of this book. In fact, the title iForce of Nature/i also applies to and is a sad commentary on human nature: the 'keeping up with the Joneses' syndrome, the one up-manship and the facade of perfect lives that people create on social media. However, intertwined with Harper's characters are a domineering company president, parenting concerns with sexually active teens, sibling rivalry intensified by substance abuse and failed job prospects, as well as very realistic fears about the remote setting itself.
There are a few points at which readers might think they have the outcome figured out, but the author continues to maintain the suspense. What's lacking are the stereotypes that can turn off a reader to the mystery genre: no super heroes with imaginary skills in solving crimes that stump anyone else; no miraculous personality changes that save the day.
Anyone who is not familiar with the works of Ms. Harper will most likely want to read other works by her at the completion of this book.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
by Anissa Gray
Realistic Life Lessons from Desperate People (10/7/2018)
I'm glad I read this book, although I wasn't immediately sure I was going to enjoy it. The summary on the back cover says that not even the "sisters are sure exactly what happened," and I think that was some initial confusion for me as well. While it was clear that eldest sister Althea and her husband were arrested, I would have liked more information on the extent of the scam. There are some important issues handled in this book - bulimia, physical abuse, behavior problems in school (stemming from unstable home lives) as well as a variety of relationships. Perhaps most importantly, this book addresses an issue that is pervasive in societies around the world and very much in the news in the United States at the moment: the casting of doubt on females who have been assaulted or abused with the question of why something was not said sooner. The answer is clear in this book and that is that people doubt you anyway or looked the other way when there was a cry for help, hoping that the problem would just go away and that they would not have to get involved. I think this book's plot contains important issues for book club discussions.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
A Special, Unique, and Unforgettable Coming-of-Age (9/12/2018)
I would classify this as a must-read for 2018! Darius is a unique teenage boy whose story will appeal to all ages, even though the book is categorized as YA. Darius has to deal with high school life where he isn't one of the supposedly cool, in-crowd boys along with the added difficulty of having a mother whose Middle Eastern heritage is viewed with suspicion. As the story progresses, he learns to appreciate so many things about his mother's side of the family. However, the learning process is realistic: neither side of the family is portrayed with rose colored glasses. This book has laugh-out-loud moments as well as those where the reader cringes in sympathy with Darius.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
History Made Heartbreaking (7/18/2018)
I knew I wanted to read this book because I was curious about a part of history which I had not heard about previously, but what I did not expect was to find the book so interesting. I hesitate to call it entertaining because it deals with such sorrow and pain, but the author is able to pull the reader into the lives of the young women. One feels as if the story is unfolding for the first time before their eyes. Sometimes people have a tendency to romanticize so-called "Good ol' Days;" this book makes it clear that there are some dark and very disturbing parts of relatively modern American history. Author Kate Moore conveys her genuine concern for the subject matter, and every chapter contains well researched and documented facts. I have already recommended the book to several friends.
The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel
by Eleanor Henderson
An Engrossing Epic; An Emotional Rollercoaster (7/11/2018)
There are a lot of emotionally flawed human beings in this tale of Great-Depression-Era Georgia, and author Emily Henderson uses them to keep the reader on edge; one is never sure where the actions are leading, and this stays true to the very end. I can't really think of any good comparisons as many novels have these days, those "for fans of..." comparisons. There's a sprinkling of the more intense moments from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. and a sprinkling of the evil moments from Girsham's A Time To Kill and yet there is a lot more: well researched facts about that era, knowledge of 1930's life in rural, small Southern towns where prejudice, false pride, lack of education or opportunity in general, and a distinct line between have's and have-not's seems to be permanent for generations. Author Henderson captures the dialect perfectly as some morally reprehensible characters stomp their way through some forced and tragic miscegnation. If you're a reader that likes fairy tale romances, then this book may not be for you, but if you like a good story, an amazingly complex plot, and historical accuracy, then buy this book A.S.A.P. I think it would be good for book clubs as well.
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
The Kindred Souls of All Humanity (3/14/2018)
I wavered between a 4 and a 5 for this book because I enjoyed reading it and felt the author did an excellent job of portraying the coming-of-age emotions of Hadia and her brother Amar, heightened by being part of a minority race and religion at a time when belonging and feeling the thrill of growing up with your peers is so important. Yet at the same time, as a reader, I was a little frustrated with the alternating flashback-present tense format. Sometimes the flashbacks went back to a younger age than the previous flashback, and I found myself underlining ages or grades in school to try and keep it straight. One of the strengths of this book is the honest insight it presents into a culture and family.I hope that readers who may not be accepting of a religion other than their own can read this book and come away appreciating the common threads of goodness and morality which bind many faiths as well as the shared religious stories.
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