Reviews by Maggie R. (Canoga Park, CA)

Power Reviewer  Power Reviewer

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Housebreaking
by Colleen Hubbard
Deconstructing (12/2/2021)
When Elizabeth Strout and Ottessa Moshfegh are referenced in media reviews - as in "if you like ..." I have possibly unrealistically high expectations. Which were met! The requisite off kilter, unlikable yet believable family members, the impossible task ... I couldn't even clean out my closets given an entire year hidden at home. I'm looking forward to more from this first time author.
The Latinist: A Novel
by Mark Prins
An unexpected treat (11/18/2021)
Since falling under the enchantment of Circe by Madeline Miller, I've read widely through the many subsequent books based on myths. So it was a no-brainer to request Mark Prins' The Latinist to read and review. The 5 stars are for an array of delights. The book initially read like a guilty pleasure romance- but not for long. As the protagonists alternate chapters with first person narration, the path of a sinister plot seems to emerge. But nothing is as it appears and the payoff is unexpected and satisfying. Do brush up on the mythic background to fully appreciate what Prins has done.
Everybody: A Book about Freedom
by Olivia Laing
A Timely Read (6/30/2021)
Olivia Laing provides much needed context for the ongoing conversation about varieties of freedom. Not since Alice Miller's stunning books cast light on the dark corners of child rearing has a volume synthesized information from diverse fields and allowed the reader to think in new ways about the obvious.
Ariadne
by Jennifer Saint
Another wonderful Greek mythogy novel! (4/7/2021)
This is a first rate retelling of the story of I fell down the Circe (Madeline Miller) rabbit hole a few years ago and have never looked back. They just keep coming. I'd love to see a "family" tree with references to the numerous novels that followed!

It's hard to believe this is a first novel for Jennifer Saint who read Classical Studies at King's College, London and spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher. She is said to be working on a novel focusing on Clytemnestra and Electra.
The Northern Reach
by W.S. Winslow
Definitely 5 stars (1/6/2021)
It has been challenging to find books to read avidly as 2020 passed by. I have never started and put down so many promising titles. So The Northern Reach is a particular pleasure. It is both expansive and compact with generations of interlocked families clearly identified in a complete family tree at the beginning with smaller trees at the beginning of each time shift. The cast is large, but this technique is actually more useful than the x ray feature of some Kindle books. The setting and plot - such as it is - has been well described by others. My goal is to encourage those readers who are reluctant to dive into a multi-generational tome.
Ruthie Fear: A Novel
by Maxim Loskutoff
A sometimes painful pageturner (6/22/2020)
I'm so glad to have met Ruthie Fear and accompanied her from childhood through a "coming-of-age" narrative marked by a strong tie to the world of nature and bruising experiences with the people she encounters. Ruthie has a mind of her own, a persistent drive to be herself in spite of the expectations of her society. And that society is so far from my own that it is both painful and thrilling. The writing is beautiful. Characters are diverse, wildly so. There are moments when I was reluctant to turn the page but at the same time anxious to find out what comes next. Trigger alert for those who are disturbed by, shall we say, unkind treatment of animals - this may not be the read for you.
Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
Oh, we need to talk about Kevin Wilson (7/2/2019)
From the cover through the last page, there was a lot to see and enjoy here. The central conceit - children who burst into flame when agitated - belies the lightness and sweetness of the central relationship of children and caregiver. There are no true monsters here. Misguided adults, yes, but those are a dime a dozen in fiction and real life. Highly recommend!
The Kinship of Secrets
by Eugenia Kim
Checks a lot of boxes (11/28/2018)
First, let me say that I was attracted to this book by a comment made by Mrs. Kim. A child raised in America assumes that another who comes from a "less advantaged" background must surely find everything better here. This idea is relevant to the current refugee situation where some assume that anyone would choose to live here, even if not in dire straits. Kinship gives the reader parallel stories of separated sisters beginning early in their lives. We understand that each finds both love and pain, regardless of the home and family members around them. What is familiar can become either a comfort or a challenge to the growing child.
An excellent choice for a book club. Hopefully a spur to deeper thinking about the individuals we read about in the news - especially those too young to influence their own future.
A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel
by John Boyne
Achingly funny - or laughably horrifying (10/1/2018)
My inclination is to urge the reader to ignore reviews that summarize or comment on the plot of this remarkable novel. It is enough to know that John Boyne created it so you are in the hands of a master story teller. Sit back and enjoy the ride, even if you are at times infuriated at our protagonist and may even want to throw the book across the room. The payoff is there and getting there is 90 percent of the fun.
The Devoted
by Blair Hurley
The Devoted - A Real Woman (6/11/2018)
Lately I've been reading books about Muslim families - often multi-generational - facing inner and outward challenges. I've been thinking, why is there a dearth of such novels where the characters' Christian upbringing and family conflicts are so well drawn and compelling? Well, here is one, with the twist that the central character is struggling to preserve and enrich her practice as a Buddhist raised as a Catholic but devoted to this new belief. Painful challenges come not only from her family but also from the master to whom she has become attached. Nicole is a complex, engaging woman who navigates her life in the best way she can. I rooted for her as a young woman on the road and as she grew to an increasingly aware master of herself.
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
My new family (4/17/2018)
The more I read, the more I appreciate Umberto Eco's comment that reading is another way of adding to your experience of life - equal to interactions in "real" life. (Maybe he didn't say exactly that - I haven't been able to locate the quote related to The Mysterious Flame of Loana). A Place for Us introduced me to a new family that now has a place in my heart and opens my mind in a way not likely to happen in reality. Would that we all diversify our experiences by reading - the possibilities are endless.
Anatomy of a Miracle
by Jonathan Miles
A Pleasant Surprise (2/7/2018)
I wasn't sure what kind of book to expect. A novel of faith? A true story of the fallout of a claimed miracle? No pigeon hole for this one! The main characters seem unpleasant but steadily gain depth and meaning. Well told back stories move the reader out of the suffocating small town setting and set up what is ultimately an affecting love story. Jonathan Miles convinces that it is all true.
Eternal Life
by Dara Horn
Really a 6 star book for me (11/20/2017)
Maybe it helps to be "old" to truly appreciate this book. I've been reflecting lately on the wonder of seeing the lives of others develop - sometimes in surprising ways. I also have thought the main downside of dying is not knowing "the rest of the story". (That's the reader in me.) Rachel's life is very long and her experiences are painful, exhausting, isolating but also transporting. Don't miss this book.
Stay with Me
by Ayobami Adebayo
Heartbreaking (9/13/2017)
Stay With Me engaged and maintained my investment in a flawed couple and their maddening families. The unsustainable fit of a modern couple with their traditional culture leads to layers of deception and misery with a sustained background tension that never lets up. Recommended for those who appreciated The Vegetarian and Half of a Yellow Sun.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
by Cherise Wolas
A Captivating aread (6/12/2017)
In the midst of gorging on Wendell Berry's port William novels, I made time to meet Joan Ashby. Whiplash ensued. This long, well crafted novel , the life of a woman I didn't warm up to but found fascinating, was a quick read due to the urge to observe her in action at work and in private life. The weak link for me were her short stories and excerpts of her novels which did not seem worthy of the accolades and awards they won. This is a spacious and unhurried book, well worth reading.
Tell Me How This Ends Well
by David Samuel Levinson
The title gives you a clue . . Hang in there (3/15/2017)
The real question is, tell me how this book is so funny, sad and scary all at the same time. Anyone who has found a place in his heart for "The Family Fang", the "Sisters Brothers", and "The Middlesteins" will want to sit down and hear the story of the Jacobsons. Nuff said.
The Typewriter's Tale
by Michiel Heyns
Just one reader's opinion (1/11/2017)
Frieda Wroth is the typewriter - forgive me, Michiel Heyns for having thought this might be an unusual POV of the machine.

I confess I am not a great fan of historical fiction involving a figure about whom a great deal is known. Nor do I buy that a young hope-to-be author would write in the very idiosyncratic style of James.

If these issues don't apply to you, you may find this book appealing.
Edgar and Lucy
by Victor Lodato
Good long story (12/1/2016)
I've been on a campaign to decrease the number of books in the unread heap by focusing on shorter volumes - 200 to 300 pages. It's been very successful and has returned to my attention authors I haven't read before. When I received Edgar and Lucy I took a deep breath and dived in. Happily and enthusiastically as it turned out. This book has everything for the reader of tales. Off kilter characters, family drama, multiple viewpoints and beautiful readable language. Highly recommended.
Underground Airlines
by Ben H. Winters
Something for everyone (10/15/2016)
Having read the Last Policeman books, I was curious what genres Winters would employ in this new work. Alternative history (please can't call it sci fi), noir antihero adventure, suspense all cooked together into a tasty stew not over-seasoned by message.
Miss Jane
by Brad Watson
Quietly powerful (4/19/2016)
A beautiful book. Calm as a deep river that flows on despite the occasional turbulence. The character Jane would feel at home in Harper Lee's Maycomb or Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and with the women young and old in those books whose lives we share and admire as strong and humane. Don't overlook Miss Jane.
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