Reviews by lani

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Damnation Spring
by Ash Davidson
An environment of our times (7/27/2021)
How does a debut author write a novel so self assured and heavily researched, while highlighting characters and families that are so obviously blemished ? Davidson has done this and more with her quietly empathetic look at loggers ,protestors, and family communication. Rich Gunderson is part of a 4th generation of loggers, and has an opportunity to buy a swath of land to elevate his family's fortune, but does so without telling his wife Colleen. Meanwhile Colleen is painfully distressed having had several miscarriages. What compounds the problem is that she acts as a midwife and has to witness live births and then the sudden escalation of problematic births. When an old boyfriend turns up and tests the waters, he believes the herbicides used in logging are causing these stillbirths and deformities.
Just as coalminers have been asked to leave their precarious jobs from working in the mines and the development of "black lung", this situation portrays the tug and pull of working in an occupation that has been the livelihood for a community's lives with little inability to imagine uprooting and changing their line of work. Tensions between the characters are skillfully drawn producing an environmental astute commentary reflective of the times.
I have to admit that the technicality of the logging terms put me off at first and I found myself not wanting to continue but this is a novel that demands pushing forward.
The War Nurse: A Novel
by Tracey Enerson Wood
a bit of a disappointment (6/2/2021)
For historical fiction fans you will find a lot to enjoy here. Reading about the trials and tribulations of nurses recruited into overseas service for WWI victims is illuminating and enlightening. Julia Stimson was a nurse in real life with a noble history that has been swept under the ground. She was recruited initially to lead a group of 65 nurses to a British Base hospital in Rouen, France when American soldiers had not yet joined the fray. They may had been instructed in the dreaded scenarios before they went overseas but the horror of the injuries is nothing compared to real life situations. As a nurse myself who has been in trauma settings nothing prepares you like being out in the field. Perhaps this is the reason why I was not particularly enamored of the story. I felt that it glossed over the depths of what it was like in the tents and the minutiae of the nurses' experience. I kept wanting more dimension to detail as the full extent of the horrors is not revealed. Her love affair was not a necessary angle to include as I thought it took away from the primary purpose of the story.

Although her writing did not inspire me, it was clear and written simply which many will find comfortable. For those not acquainted with the intimacies, struggles and improvisation needed in these distressing situations, there is much to be gained from immersion of this novel.
The Burning Girls
by C. J. Tudor
spine tingling (3/11/2021)
Never have I felt more sure that a mystery deserved 5 stars. You will be introduced to a vicar at a local parish that bears no resemblance to any priestly figure I have ever met. And SHE is named JACK. A book that crackles with energy and a narrator who constantly surprises with her ironic tongue. I had to keep smiling along with the suspense at all the wisecracks blurting from her mouth. Jack is suddenly transferred to the quiet sleepy town of Chapel Croft where she takes over from the untimely death of the previous vicar. There she and her teenage daughter find the community obsessed with creating twig like dolls that commemorated 8 Protestant martyrs 500 years ago. What she and her daughter discover is a community full of secrets and conspiracies that read like an onion constantly revealing new narratives, ghostly figures, devious characters and layers of twists and turns. As they unravel the truth, I found myself more and more absorbed, not wanting my bedtime to interfere with the narrative of this high wire story line. Don't miss this one!
The Bad Muslim Discount
by Syed M. Masood
Irreverent with serious overtones (3/3/2021)
Funny, irreverent, and profound. How do you get all these attributes enveloped in one novel? Well, you need Masood's copious skills. He managed to create a story with religious, political, love and romantic tones. Yet all these are in the context of the main characters voice, a child who at the age of 10 emigrated from Karachi, Pakistan to California. Anvar is a bright resourceful cheeky son while his older brother is straight laced and a rule follower. However, it is not without irony that the tables turn by the end of the novel. Azza is another character who has fled with her father, a man who turned abusive after being imprisoned by Americans, and another man who has agreed to bring them to the United States a long as she marries him and gives in to his sexual advances despite her Muslim mores. The remaining characters have robust natures whose dialogue is humorous and compelling. Full of satire, the narratives hammer into one another. Despite my enjoyment, I would have liked to see more editing but still I feel this book will make people laugh out loud while contemplating some serious issues.
The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice
by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Fight for the right (2/2/2021)
Take one war. Combine with women's oppression. Mix with inestimable courage and bravery. The final product...the daughters of Kobani, Syria. Four major female characters are highlighted to illuminate the tenacity and heroism of the Kurdish women who became an all female militia and helped direct men in battle to take back their land against ISIS and other geopolitical forces. In a world where women are expected to be more docile, these rising warriors sacrificed much in the inhumanity of war. The author, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, spent several years researching and traveling to Syria to explore the history of the war and to observe this group of dedicated women fighting not only for their land and tribe but also for women's rights and long term political and social change. Kobani is pressed right up against the Turkish border along with nearby Iraq ,and the people experienced minimal rights within their own country being essentially stateless, with Arab families living on the land owned by the Kurds. The author, with painfully exhaustive research becomes a guide to the history of the war while giving tribute to the women. This non fiction piece is a testimony to accomplishing a goal with grit and boldness. Hillary Clinton thought so. Along with Chelsea, they are adapting this book as a TV series. May we all be so lucky to view both.
The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice
by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Inspiring women fighters (1/25/2021)
Take one war. Combine with women's oppression. Mix with inestimable courage and bravery. The final product...the daughters of Kobani, Syria. Four major female characters are highlighted to illuminate the tenacity and heroism of the Kurdish women who became an all female militia and helped direct men in battle to take back their land against ISIS and other geopolitical forces. In a world where women are expected to be more docile, these rising warriors sacrificed much in the inhumanity of war. The author, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, spent several years researching and traveling to Syria to explore the history of the war and to observe this group of dedicated women fighting not only for their land and tribe but also for women's rights and long term political and social change. Kobani is pressed right up against the Turkish border along with nearby Iraq ,and the people experienced minimal rights within their own country being essentially stateless, with Arab families living on the land owned by the Kurds. The author, with painfully exhaustive research becomes a guide to the history of the war while giving tribute to the women. This non fiction piece is a testimony to accomplishing a goal with grit and boldness. Hillary Clinton thought so. Along with Chelsea, they are adapting this book as a TV series. May we all be so lucky to view both.
Lazarus: Joona Linna #7
by Lars Kepler
Do you want some sleepless nights? (12/21/2020)
Riveting. Dark. Page Turner of the Highest Order. Taut. Pulse Racing. Whiplash inducing Final Pages. Do you think I liked it? I was literally gripping the edges of the chair trying to race to the closing lines.This is definitely a book that is grim and gloomy but truly was a wonderful escape. I found it so easy to devour the writing: I have never missed a book in this Scandinavian noir that I haven't liked. Lars Keplar is the pseudonym for a husband and wife team from Stockholm, Sweden who have now written 7 books in this series. However, you can definitely start with this one though the others may give you more background information. Detective Joona Linn has a stalker that has been pursuing him for years after Joona killed his brother. This is no ordinary criminal though. He is a mastermind at invading his victims' minds and always keeping one step ahead of the game. Although it was thought this individual was dead, when 2 fatalities show up with the criminal's character trademarks on their bodies, Joona is sure he is still alive. As bodies continue to mount, Joona is positive these are secret messages to let him know he wants to kill him and those closest to him. Thus begins the spree to try to keep one step ahead of him. This is not your popcorn thriller but one that guarantees a good deal of sleepless moments while glued to the pages.
Confessions on the 7:45
by Lisa Unger
An antidote for these times (11/4/2020)
The day after the election -a gift to me during the process and last night. Engrossing. Compelling. Absorbing. Captivating. An easy flow with characters who were strongly developed and with pages that began to fly. Can I say it again? Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. for these days when we need to escape the realities of Covid and the election or for that matter, any day in your life. Some days we want something serious, but others we need to fly into another world and escape. The chapters are divided by the experience of different characters though not in linear order. Fear not, it did not even impinge on the flow. When Serena leaves her work late, she takes the 7:45 train to go home, and is bamboozled by another woman who tells a sad story and lures Serena into sharing her own. The woman keeps following up through text messages but eventually Serena is suspect of the women's intentions. During this process, secrets are divulged about Serena's husband, the unknown woman's mysterious background is uncovered , and the interplay between them all creates a hellish story.
Shuggie Bain
by Douglas Stuart
Beware: it hurts (10/27/2020)
A finalist for the National Book Award and the Booker Prize shortlist,, this novel's depiction of Glasgow's mining town vividly portrays the landscape and the atmosphere around the 1980's. Most of the book is centered around the relationship with a young boy named Shuggie and his mother. It is a story that brilliantly captures the suffering wrapped around alcoholism, addiction, sexuality and destitution. However, I have to admit, reading this in 2020 and a week before the election, made me spiral into a downward depression where I thought I couldn't go lower. This is a book that hurts. Hurts because of the dark side of poverty, the way Shuggie is bullied because of his sexual orientation, the way Shuggie becomes an adult before his time to assist an alcoholic mother who is increasingly falling to pieces, the sexual predatory nature of these men, and a structure and neighborhood that does not support one another. I know I am portraying a grim, deeply sad book but it is also brilliantly written and made me feel as if I was caught in the middle of this cyclone. Few novels can explore these issues so astutely
Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic
by Alice Hoffman
magic at its best (10/11/2020)
Alice Hoffman always has a beautiful way with words. I had not read her previous books, Practical Magic and Rules of Magic but that blunder will soon be assuaged. It certainly was not necessary to read the other books to understand and adore this novel. Wonderfully immersive, not only being a treatise on witchcraft, but is centrally a story about love. Love withheld, fear of love, all consuming love, love of friends and motherly love. This was also a commentary about the place of women in the 1600's where superstitions thrived, where women were subservient ,where women had no voice, could not publish or own property. Powerless under the edicts of men, they were thus coerced to have clandestine lives. Maria ,the main character in this novel, was cast off by her mother and taken in by Hannah, a sympathetic woman who taught her the arts of healing and so called"witchcraft". As time evolves she is smitten with a man and fools herself into thinking this is love, a feeling which produced a child. When she is abandoned by him, she sails to Salem to find him . As he cast her from his life she induced a magical spell that affected the rest of her life. Much follows from this point, between a sailor whom she saved from a mysterious illness and an attempt to find her daughter who was snatched from her life. Adventures abound , centering on one of the themes "You make love what you want it to be. You decide.You walked toward it or walk away."Excellently crafted and full of mysticism, this novel sucked me right in.
Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman
A brilliant book (10/3/2020)
If Fredrik Backman knocked on my door, I would hug him to death, Covid or no Covid. This book made me indescribably happy, alternating with tears, and lots of moments laughing out of loud. I think it was one of those books that you want to clasp to your heart and never let go. It was profound but with simplistic prose as one becomes enmeshed in the characters' lives. And what a cast! A bank robber who is not a robber(You will just have to trust me on this one!), a banker, a retired couple who renovate houses, a sweet grandmother, an actor, a real estate agent, a therapist, who all become involved in a hostage situation( except it really wasn't). It is during their time together, that their life histories and emotional lives unfold like a flower about to bloom. Primarily, it is a character study with an insane improbable plot but it all works. In all Backman's novels, he has a unique ability to flesh out his heart steeling characters in ways that are profoundly human. It was an ingenious ride, and though I just finished it, I want to go on the ride again and again !
All the Devils Are Here: Chief Inspector Gamache #16
by Louise Penny
A new look at the Gamache family (9/19/2020)
I have loved all of Penny's books about Chief Inspector Gamache and the quirky inhabitants of Three Pines. When I read these books it felt like I was coming home, sitting at my desk with a cold beer on a hot day. Set in Paris this novel takes a different tack. The whole Gamache family is in Paris and his daughter is about to give birth. His godfather Stephen meets him in Rodin's garden but delivers some quirky comments. It turns out that those declarations would prove to unlock a sizable mystery. The plot felt much more involved and accelerated from her previous books, as the others were characterized by a languid gait. Stephen is hit by a hit-and-run driver and another person is found dead in his quarters. Uncovering the multilayered plot becomes the central issue of the book with an emphasis on family love, togetherness, and actions based on miscommunication. I really enjoyed it, but kept missing the old folks back home. However, that is not a criticism of the book at all. It is just Penny's ability to make one so involved with the characters that you ache when they are not there.
Fifty Words for Rain
by Asha Lemmie
a heart felt sweeping saga (9/14/2020)
Once you begin this book, it is hard to not be swept up into this enveloping narrative. Niko, an 8 year old Japanese child is a product of an illegitimate affair or a woman of Japanese royalty and an African American GI officer in the post world war II. I dare you to read this without your heart strings tugging . As a child she was taught to acquiese ,to not have opinions, and to obey orders at all costs. When her mother abandons her, she is sent to her haughty grandmother who houses her to avoid the shame of her skin color and her clandestine birth. She is cooped up in an attic for 2 years practicing her obedience, being the"perfect" child until the arrival of her half brother Akira. He helps her to unravel the rules that she has been subjected her whole life. The deep brother sister love dominates the book along with the controlling" Queen Grimholde."into scenes that deliver anguish. During the time she learns to have a voice, takes charge of her own life, and evolves into the woman who owns her self. A truly moving heartfelt story.
Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town
by Barbara Demick
a riveting piece of history (8/21/2020)
Forgive my ignorance, but I did know that China has been trying to seize control of Tibet but I never really understood why. Barbara Demick delivers a non fiction book that feels like fiction but delivers a remarkable arc of history spanning Mao's Long March through the current day. The novel speaks to us in the form of various individuals who tell their story intermixed with history and complete with vivid and horrifying details. Centered around the town of Ngaba was the first interaction of the Chinese communists with the community. As these communists escaped their own fight dealing with the Chinese Nationalists, the soldiers in the Red Army were desperate and hungry. They stole items from monasteries, ate votive candles shaped like buddhas that were made composed of barley and flour (To the Tibetans it felt like they were eating the Buddha himself),destroyed monasteries, deposed a king, ripped up floors for firewood, seized their essential livestock , and even defecated on their religious texts.These rounds of defiance and crackdowns generated the only way the Tibetans felt they had to resist. To date there have been 156 self immolations that we know of that progressed to swallowing gasoline and covering themselves with wire laden blankets. To date 156 immolations that we know of have taken place. These rounds of defiance and crackdowns induced the only way the Tibetans knew to resist. The reader is exposed to the horrific situations through historical events leading up the present. Many Tibetans have fled to Lhasa, the home of the Dalai Lama, but despite the material things that have accumulated in their lives, want they want and don't have is their freedom. This book is so much more than the simple words I am trying to convey. If anyone is interested in learning and understanding this chapter in the Tibetans' lives I urge you to not walk but run to read a brilliant and heavily researched novel that is ingeniously created.
The Last Flight
by Julie Clark
Suspense is undeniable (6/28/2020)
In the age of covid-19, when we all would all like to escape to the moon, Julie Clark offers up the perfect remedy. Speeding forward like a locomotive, the book pulsates with the energy of a good suspense novel, while creating heart stealing characters. Claire is married to a powerful, rich, handsome man but who abuses her physically and emotionally behind the scenes. Eva, the other main character, brought up in orphanages,has a hard time adjusting to life and gets involved in manufacturing and selling drugs to survive. Both want to escape their lives and when a chance meeting occurs at the airport they decide to switch tickets and identities. The consequence of that becomes the main focus of the book and structurally is ingeniously crafted. Friendship, "the Me Too Movement "and morality come into play in this propulsive novel that begs to be read in one fell swoop. Thank you Ms. Clark, for giving relief to part company from the real world around me.
Apeirogon
by Colum McCann
Wrenching stories (5/31/2020)
Breathtaking.. Heart stealing characters. A voice that somersaults on the page. Pulsates with urgency and lingers with hope. My absolute favorite of 2020. A mosaic of small chapters, descriptive snippets of the Israeli Palestinian confrontations examined through the voices of the actual individuals, Bassam Aramin and Israel Rami Elhanan . In 1997, Rami's 13 year old daughter was killed by a suicide bombing on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Ten years later, Bassam's daughter was killed by an Israeli's 18 year old border guard with a rubber bullet when she was going to buy candy. These two men who were acquainted previously through an organization called Combatants for Peace join Parents Circle, a group of fellow mourners who are joined together by grief to encourage a peaceful solution to their respective struggles. Their search for peace in the narration of their powerful stories and discourse forms the struggle to find common ground. Their stories are one of aching humanity.This is a book that begs one to feel and experience, rather than one just reading their tragedies.
Hollywood Park
by Mikel Jollett
Pulls at your heartstrings (5/25/2020)
Prior to reading this, I knew nothing about the author, nor his place in history as the frontman of the band Airborn Toxic. In fact, as I immersed myself in the book, I had to remind myself that these events really happened to someone, sometimes outlandish and always painful. I immediately had the same feeling that I had when I read Educated, but this time a startling story of a blighted life from when he was first raised in a famous commune/cult called /Synanon. Separated by their birth parents the children had to live on their own in the "School" after 6 months. One day his mother escaped with him and his older brother Tony but life inside was more stable than the outside world. A narcissistic mother who expected her children to care for her, frequent men, temporary husbands, violence, drugs and alcohol permeate the book and wreak havoc in all their lives. Enter Dad. The ex husband. Another character who though he was an ex junkie and prisoner, spends summers with the kids in a crude but very warm and loving fashion.The book starts from Mikel's perspective as a child and metamorphosis into a more mature man as he struggles with the questions of life and experiments with who he wants to become. It is the struggles and love that are the backbone of this book, and pulled at my heart heartstrings. The pain was raw, and I found myself constantly underlining passages . Readers will understand later when I say.."He saw me!"..Definitely a book not to miss!
My Dark Vanessa: A Novel
by Kate Russell
a variance on Lolita (5/24/2020)
It took the author 18 years to write his novel. Who would have know how prescient it would become during the current "Me-Too" crisis. This is a very unsettling novel examining the life of a 15 year old girl who becomes enamored with her 42 year old teacher as he stealthily draws her in to his affections. Everyone can remember this period of "hormones walking on legs", the insecurities of that age, and for some the deep need for affection and love. Her teacher supplies all those to Vanessa with persistent attempts at grooming her. The author skillfully transitions from the present day to the past constructing the unstable emotions. Painful issues are explored about boundaries, consent, abuse, justice, responsibility, and victimization just to name a few. It is an all consuming read, infested with the ambiguities in scurrilous relationships.
Eden Mine
by S. M. Hulse
a gem-perfect for book clubs (5/18/2020)
I don't even know where to start. Reading this was like finding a precious jewel in the bottom of a haystack. I hadn't even heard about this book until a book friend that I respect introduced it to me. I will be forever grateful. I was transfixed by this quiet contemplative work that addresses so many issues. While finding myself simultaneously savoring and devouring this book, it made me think of the biblical Garden of Eden and how biting the apple thrust the characters into a crisis of faith and the spiritual death coming from banishment of the ideal world. The ties to the physical environment were so profoundly drawn, arresting and immersive. Indeed, I also found the inner dialogue and thoughts of the characters vivid and pensive. There are so many issues raised that capture the reader's attention regarding guilt vs. innocence, questioning of faith, painting as a creative modality to express one's emotions, sibling relationships, choices in life etc. I could write about the story but you can find that in the blurb. It's a book that is absolutely perfect for bookclubs. Just know that this is a novel you won't regret reading.
These Women: A Novel
by Ivy Pochoda
Gritty and powerful (5/18/2020)
Once in a while, if you are lucky, a novel comes along that leaves you breathless and stunned. Pochoda's book threw me down a whirlpool sucking me under . Using descriptive street language ,the author explores the life of five different women who live in southwestern LA, a section known as "the corner." These very different women tell their individual stories in very explicit visual language but have the commonality of living through past and current violence . They are judged by police and the world by the color of their skin and /or by their occupation. When two girls are murdered in their neighborhood, their past surpassed pain dissolves and their connection to a serial killer surfaces. There is peril, brutality,grittiness and power in their words that felt so pictorial and real. I was living in their neighborhood;I felt immersed in their feelings. When the book ended, after I put everything aside for the whole evening, I just sat still, amazed, bereft and finally privileged that Pochoda offered an experience like no other. If I could rate this to the googolplex power I would. Admittedly, if you don't like audacious fierce novels, you might pause before reading this book. But for the others, run, run, run

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