Reviews by Colleen L. (Casco, ME)

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars: A Novel
by Kristin Harmel
Totally Riveting (5/25/2021)
"The Book of Vanishing Stars" is a captivating read. The book is about a young girl, Yona, who was kidnapped when she was a baby and raised by her kidnapper in the forest. Yona is taught everything she needs to live there and stay hidden. This skill becomes immensely important to the Jews who hide in the forest during World War II. Yona teaches her skills to the Jews who escape to the forest for safety.

Kristin Hamel did an amazing job researching the true circumstances of the Jewish people who did hide out in the forest during World War II. I knew that this happened but there is little literature about this particular event. Reading more about this added to my Holocaust knowledge. The book is beautifully written and Yona is a character that you will absolutely adore. From page one to the ending, the book hooks you. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down.

I have nothing but praise for this book. It took me a while to start it (I was involved in a gigantic novel) but once I opened the first page, I was transported to Yona's world. I LOVE Harmel's writing. It is beautiful, lush, and so engaging that you want to race along to see what happens. That would be a mistake, however, as the writing is eloquent and gripping.

I do hope someone decides to make this into a movie because it would be definitely a great addition to the Holocaust genre and tells a story seldom mentioned. I commend Kristin Hamel for a wonderful book. She has written a novel as compelling as Kristin Hannah's Nightingale and I predict it will be a huge success.
The Northern Reach
by W.S. Winslow
A view of Maine (11/24/2020)
I chose to review this book because the setting was Maine. It basically is a story of an extended family living in fictional Wellbridge Maine. Since I live in the state, I was interested in how the author described it.

First the pros - (1) the author clearly has visited here or lived here at some point. His descriptions of down east Maine are on point and I felt like I knew a few small towns that could clearly be Wellbridge. I loved his descriptions. (2) The interactions between characters was interesting and I greatly appreciated the family trees that the author posted in the start of each story. Since there were a large number of characters, the Family tree was helpful. (3) I loved the cover. I don't normally comment on covers but I thought this one was especially well done. It drew me in.

Cons - (1) I felt like I was reading a sequence of short stories. Yes, the characters were related in some way but the stories were very short and I would loved to seen one or two of them expanded in more detail.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and it moved along quickly. The book reminded me of "Olive Kitteridge" in the way it was written. All in all, a good debut novel that I would recommend to my friends and book clubs.
The Stone Girl: A Novel
by Dirk Wittenborn
Totally Riveting (4/13/2020)
When I read the book "Jurassic Park", all I could think of was how great a movie the book would make. I feel EXACTLY the same way with "Stone Girl". It would make a suspenseful movie as it has many interesting aspects. It's coming of age; rich man vs poor man; and current with today's "me too" movement. The action is very fast paced and the characters are well developed. The action in the forest made me think of "Deliverance". I would dearly love to see this movie!

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Once I started reading, I could not stop. I did not see the ending coming...expecting something completely different. The author provided good characterizations for the individuals in the novel. I felt I knew them personally and I was totally on the edge of my seat throughout the book. A great book to keep your attention focused during our current stressful times. A must read book!

I strongly recommend this book....especially to readers who love mysteries. Special thanks to the publisher who found a way to provide this ARC to us electronically because of COVID.
The Prisoner's Wife
by Maggie Brookes
An Unusual Holocaust Story (2/12/2020)
The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes is an unusual book. There are many true stories available about people who survived the horrible Nazi concentration camps. This one, however, is a unique view of someone who married a British soldier who had been captured and actually joined him in the concentration camp. Brookes does an excellent job describing the various challenges faced by the couple. And what makes it so interesting is that it is based on a true story!

I rated the book highly because of the author's writing. It was especially vivid and kept me intensely interested until the very last page. Once I started the book, I could not stop! I kept thinking throughout the book that it would make an incredible movie. I sure hope someone options it to do so.

The author states that she was told this story by a third party and has never met the actual couple. She is hoping that someone reads the novel and lets her know what happened after the war. I, too, am extremely curious and would love to read a sequel if the author would find out additional information. I'd buy that sequel in a heartbeat.

I strongly recommend this book. It's a different type of Holocaust story and it's riveting. The author did intense research making the history come alive to the reader. Brookes writing is engaging and she writes beautifully. I predict this book will be a best seller. It will be perfect for book clubs.

I wish to thank BookBrowse for the ARC. This was an amazing book and I loved it.
The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel
by Jennifer Rosner
As a mother, what would you do? (11/29/2019)
A heartbreaking story about a Jewish mother who hides her daughter in a cold barn to survive Nazi soldiers. Shira, the daughter, has to be absolutely silent along with her mother Roza to ensure they are not located. Yes, the owners of the barn know they are there but they too will be killed if Roza and Shira are found. The things Roza had to do to survive; the food, or lack thereof, to survive; and the absolute terror they lived with day after day of being discovered cannot be totally comprehended.

Although the story is fiction, we know from historical records that many Jewish parents faced the same dilemma that Roza faced during the Holocaust. A horrible choice eventually...keep Shira by your side or send her away to safety.

This is a moving story by Rosner. Once you start the story, you cannot stop. As a mother, you can empathize with Roza's decisions and Rosner's evocative writing will have you feeling Roza's pain as if it were your own. The ending is magnificent.

I was gifted this book by Bookbrowse. I always ask for books concerning the Holocaust as I learn new facts with about the war with each book I read. This book did an amazing job highlighting the terror and distress that a parent would have relinquishing their children even if it were for their safety.

This is an amazing book. I loved it. It took me a while to start another book after it because this one stayed on my mind for quite a while. I applaud Jennifer Rosner for her writing skills. The book moves the reader and I predict it will be a best seller and a great book club selection. Buy the book. You will not be disappointed.
I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir
by Esther Safran Foer
An Amazing Read (11/12/2019)
Ester Foer's search for her family history is both inspiring and challenging. Her parents had lived through the Holocaust and were enigmatic about their experiences. Her father died and she was unaware of the circumstances until she was much older. Over the years, Foer did intense research across several continents to unearth her parent's history.

I have read many books about the Holocaust - both fiction and non-fiction. Most are written about survivors from the death camps and their horrific experiences. What I haven't read much of, nor has there been much written about, concerns the post-Holocaust. This was a time that was just as hard for the surviving Jews and one that people just assume had to be easier given that the death camps were closed. Foer's book highlights this difficult time period and opened my eyes to a situation I knew little about.

Foer's book is a true life detective story. Her writing is just as gifted as her three sons who are also writers. It takes her years to finally piece her family's past in place. You can feel her emotion when she finally arrives at her father's ancestral home land and meets the family that saved her father.

This is an important book that needs to be added to the catalogue of "must-read" Holocaust books. It covers a period that most readers know little about. I highly recommend this book and am grateful for the opportunity to read it and learn more about this terrible time in World War II.
Never Coming Back
by Alison McGhee
A Fascinating Read (9/11/2017)
Never Coming Back is an emotional story of Clara Winter who comes back to her home town to take care of her mother who has advanced Alzheimer's. Clara's relationship with her mother, Tamar, has been distant over the years. As Clara handles her mother's affairs and spends time with Tamar, she attempts to get answers to many questions she has had.

I love the way Alison McGhee writes. I have a hard time describing this book and how it makes me feel. It is a not a 'feel good' novel but is written with such clarity, that it leaves you thinking about it many days after reading it. I lost my mother when I was young and some of the passages that McGhee wrote hit close to home. I suspect that older woman who read this novel will find some emotions that remind them of their own relationships with their mothers. It is a complicated novel and really makes you think seriously about relationships with your mothers. It also makes you think about Alzheimer's and all the horrors that disease brings.

Some novels make you laugh. Some novels make you think.... but the best novels make you 'feel' empathy for the character and touch your own emotional psyche. This book does it. It moved me and I guess that's the best compliment I can give a book.
The Stars Are Fire
by Anita Shreve
Stronger than you know.... (3/1/2017)
Anita Shreve has penned another winner. During the late 1940s, a great fire occurred on the coast of Maine. Shreve used this true event as a springboard for her story about Grace who is a typical '40s housewife married to Gene. She introduces us to Grace's life - her marriage, her two children, her mother and her best friend Rosie. Here is where Shreve shines. Her characters are real and believable. The relationship between Grace and Gene is complex and Shreve does a good job leading the reader along carefully so that you understand something is amiss but are unsure as to what it is. When the fire occurs and Grace saves her children but loses everything, it becomes clear that Grace is much stronger than she initially appeared.

As Grace struggles & finds her way, the reader is caught up in Grace's world. To tell you more would ruin the story. Be prepared when you read this book. Once you start, you will not want to stop till you finish. This is a one-sitting book! I've read most of Anita Shreve's books but I think this is one of my favorites. Grace is a character that you can empathize with & you'll love Rosie. A wonderful, enjoyable read. Shreve has a winner on her hands.
The Book That Matters Most: A Novel
by Ann Hood
Books That Move Us Most (7/18/2016)
Ava's husband recently left her and she is struggling to cope emotionally with this change. Her two children are abroad and Maggie her daughter is also struggling with drug addiction. The story focuses primarily on these two individuals and how they move forward. Ava joins a book club hosted by her best friend. The theme for the year is for the members to choose a book that most influenced them in their life. Ava chooses an obscure book that seemed to be written specifically for her situation while she was growing up.

I've waited a while before posting this review to see if time helped my response to this book. Normally, I love Ann Hood's books but this one just didn't work for me. I couldn't empathize with Ava and found her lacking. Her daughter was a hot mess and only a coincidence at the end enables her situation to improve. Other readers wrote that the story moved along at a good pace and they were anxious for the ending. Unfortunately, I did not find the same thing.

I gave the book a "3" because I liked the premise that each person chose a book that mattered most to them. The review of the novels (most of which all of us have read) was enjoyable. I also found the book interesting to a degree but not my favorite....hence the rating.
The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World's Oldest Bible
by Chanan Tigay
Enjoyed immensely. (2/24/2016)
I loved this book! Granted this book will not appeal to everyone but if you enjoy reading about archaeological discoveries i.e. biblical manuscripts , then this book is for you. The author has a droll sense of humor which keeps you engaged in his search for the Shapiro document across numerous countries. I felt like I was reading a modern day Indiana Jones story. Although I was disappointed at the ending, this was in no way the fault of the author. I was simply hoping for a different outcome. The author does an excellent job revisiting the history of Mr Shapiro and the early history of collecting historical Jewish scrolls. All of this information was new to me and I found the book very interesting.
The Widow
by Fiona Barton
Fast Paced Thriller (12/26/2015)
Fiona Barton has written a fast paced thriller that will keep you entertained till the very end. The author does an excellent job segmenting each chapter into a different character's viewpoint. The reader is given clues & led to the eventual conclusion. I love mysteries where you are unable to predict what happens, however, so I gave the book a '4' because I had figured out both 'secrets' at the end. What I loved about the book is that it piqued my interest from the first page and held my attention till the very last. All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable read.
The Devil in Jerusalem
by Naomi Ragen
The Devil In Jersusaleum (6/26/2015)
The author Naomi Ragen, an American who has lived in Jerusalem for 40 years, writes authoritatively about the city. It is evident she understands the language and the culture. I found the background information for the story very interesting and informative, having never traveled to Israel myself.

The 'Devil in Jerusalem' by Naomi Ragen is inspired on a real court case that occurred in Jerusalem...the Elior Chen Trial. "The experiences of the children in this book was based on 300 pages of actual court testimony. Naomi Ragen" It is evident in reading this book that Ragen conducted significant research across a wide array of resources including cult rituals, kabbalists and mystical ancient texts. All of this information was new and enlightening to me.


I found the story of Daniella and Shlomie interesting as well. I did have a hard time understanding the character of Daniella, though; hence the rating of a '4' vs a '5'. The loving mother who could so easily turn into such an evil villain and then revert back just didn't work for me. Granted, I have limited insight into cults and their followings so maybe I just didn't empathize with the character enough. The story started a bit slow but moved quickly towards the end. The child abuse described in the book was horrific. I have no doubt that the author used real examples and probably could have added more. I believe part of the author's goal for writing this book was to alert readers of the seriousness of cults that exist today. Most of us readers are completely unaware of the scope of this tragedy.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and found it informative and very interesting. I plan to read other books by Ragen as she has now captured my interest.
What Doesn't Kill Her: A Reeve LeClaire Series Novel
by Carla Norton
A solid suspense story. (5/5/2015)
What a thriller! From the first page of the book to the very last, I was on pins and needles wondering what was going to happen next. The book weaves back and forth between Reeve (the victim) and Flint (the psychopath). Although other reviewers found the story disjointed, I enjoyed the way the story moved back and forth. The action does not stop in this book and I found myself speed reading the last few chapters to find out the ending. Be prepared to sit a bit when you start this book because once you start, you will not want to stop. Since I enjoyed this novel so much, I have ordered Norton's other book "Edge of Normal."
The Well
by Catherine Chanter
Mystery and Magic.... (2/6/2015)
Every now and then a book comes along that makes you hold your breath. The Well is that book.

Ruth Ardingly has recently been released to house arrest to her farm in Britain called 'The Well'. While the rest of the UK is suffering from severe drought, the Well never suffers; always having sufficient rainfall & water. Ruth and her husband Mark purchased the farm a few years earlier in the hopes of starting new lives. Unfortunately, a series of events are conspiring to doom this new start. The book is narrated by Ruth and as a reader you are unaware of the circumstances leading to Ruth's arrest until midway through the book.

The Well is a powerful book. It is part mystery, part magical and deeply emotional. Ruth is a sorrowful voice. You find yourself empathizing with her and other times wanting to shake her out of her clouds. You will not, however, be left unaffected by what she has to say. Catherine Chanter does a wonderful job writing about the sensitivities of relationships. She uses beautiful language and writes very well. The poetry she uses in the book is also moving and evocative.

For readers who like books about complicated relationships as well as a good old fashioned 'whodunit', this book is for you. This is Catherine's first novel and I will be anxiously awaiting any further novels she chooses to write.
Whispering Shadows
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Insight into China... (12/23/2014)
Sendker's newest book is an unusual novel. In some ways, it is like his first book "The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" in that the author can evoke strong, empathetic feelings for the main character. In other ways, however, it is a 'whodunit' as to who killed Michael Owens. It is rare when an author can successfully blend both types of novels into one & I believe that Sendker has accomplished it.

Paul Leibovitz, a emotionally distanced American, is living in Lamma, an outlying island of Hong Kong. He meets another American, Elizabeth Owen whose son is missing in China. Paul and his detective friend, Zang, investigate this disappearance.

What makes this novel so interesting is that the author takes you deep into the culture of China. We take so much for granted here in the USA. In China, people are treated differently; politics are different; business is different; and how people survive is challenging. The author was for many years an Asian correspondent for "Stern" and in 2000 published "Cracks in the Wall", a nonfiction book about China. The author does an exceptional job presenting this personal insight into his new fiction novel - a world most of us Americans really don't understand.

Although "The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" remains my favorite book of his, Sendker has penned another winner. The reader will love the way Sendker writes. He thoroughly engages you in the story and the insight into the world of China is fascinating. I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for an interesting change of pace. You won't be disappointed.
The Same Sky
by Amanda Eyre Ward
A Story out of Today's Headlines..... (12/4/2014)
Amanda Ward has written a very relevant novel considering today's headlines. This is a story of Alice and Carla. Carla is a young Honduras girl who has been left alone to care for her two younger brothers while her mother has illegally emigrated to the USA. Carla's life is exceedingly difficult and each day is a fight to survive. Alice is a successful restaurant owner with her husband in Texas who is unable to conceive and desperately wants a baby. Not until the very end does the reader understand how Alice and Carla's lives intersect.

The book is very well written and Ward emotionally engages you in the story. The underlying message in Ward's book is that the USA is a beacon of hope to today's immigrants and they, in turn, have something to offer us. Ward does an excellent job describing the immigrant's lives in their home countries and their rationale as to why they traverse such dangerous terrain to get here.

I rated the book a '4' because I enjoyed the story and how well Ward writes. I don't agree with her assessment of how to handle refugees; thus my inability to rate the book a '5. I don't the solution is as simple as Ward describes.
The Secrets of Midwives
by Sally Hepworth
Impressive Debut.. (12/1/2014)
The Secrets of Midwives is a lovely debut book about the relationships between mothers and daughters. Each of the three women (Floss, Grace, Neva) are midwives. All three have secrets to keep and eventually those secrets unravel to a surprising & hopeful conclusion.

The language the author used in the book is moving and evocative. As a reader, you glimpsed why someone would dedicate their lives to being a midwife...to the joy and beauty of bringing life into the world. The author does a wonderful job describing the first moments when a mother greets her newborn child into the world. The picture she paints is one of exquisite beauty.

I loved the way the author chose to present each of the characters' lives. Each chapter was a glimpse into Floss, Grace and Neva's world. As the ending of Neva's pregnancy draws near, so do the secrets. And ultimately, just as Neva's new baby represents a new life, the unveiling of secrets ultimately represents new beginnings.

For readers who love woman's lit, this book is for you. The writing is smooth and fast paced. Be prepared to find a comfy chair and settle in for the full duration as you will not want to put the book down once you start it.

I thank Bookbrowse for the advance copy. It was an excellent book.
The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
What would You do to Survive? (9/14/2014)
The Nightingale is Hannah's latest book due to be published in February 2015. As with all her other books, if I could rate it higher I would. The book is about two sisters who lived in France during World War II. The book opens in current day when one sister receives an invitation to travel back to France for a special celebration. It becomes clear early on that her son, Julian, does not know much of her earlier life during the War. The story weaves back and forth through time with most of the emphasis in the 40's during the War.

Hannah writes beautifully in this book. She has a way of writing that simply transports you there into the story. The characters are real and you experience the same fear, anguish and hurt as they do. This story is told from a woman's perspective which greatly added to the story line. I have read many World War II books but few that place special emphasis on the heroism and courage of women fighting the War in their own ways. The book builds suspense gradually. When I reached Chapter 32, my nerves were taut. Everyone knows the history of World War II but the reader is praying that the inevitable will not happen here. The author does an excellent job with her series of surprise events that ultimately occur.

I would heartily recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical fiction. The book was well researched and presents a solid look at the French Resistance. I urge you to keep tissues handy for the ending, however. Hannah does not fail to touch your heart.
Accidents of Marriage
by Randy Susan Meyers
Realistic and true to life.. (6/7/2014)
This is a very realistic book. Maddy is a working mother of three children who handles the preponderance of child rearing, house work and bill paying. Her husband is a Public Defender with anger issues. Maddy is always unsure of Ben's moods when he gets home and the home revolves around these moods. One rainy day when Maddy is traveling with her husband, an accident occurs and Maddy suffers a very serious accident. The world changes dramatically for the entire family after that.

Try as I might, I found it difficult to like or respect her husband but my heart went out to Maddy and her children, especially Emma. I thought the book was well written because the story felt 'real' and could actually be happening in hundreds of American homes today. I think the author reminds us that spousal abuse isn't just physical but can be equally devastating when it is emotionally driven. Some people may not be satisfied with the ending but I found it true to life.

I found the story engaging and insightful. I also believe the author delivered an important message about spousal abuse. I think this book is a valuable read & would recommend this book to anyone looking to read about complex, family situations.
Mission to Paris: A Novel
by Alan Furst
World World II Espionage at its' Best! (1/24/2014)
I love reading about World War II because there are so many interesting aspects to this war and so many new things to learn. I knew Paris was hotbed of rumors just prior to the war but had no knowledge of the Germans who actually lived in the city. This book takes place in Paris just prior to the start of World War II. Although fiction, Mr Furst has done excellent research about Paris life in those days. I love how the action of the book continues to build till the very end. The author also doesn't waste words but simply tells a compelling story. This is a quick read with a very satisfying ending. I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks to Random House for the free book ( I won it in a contest)....I never would have picked up an Alan Furst novel and now I will be going back and reading all his prior books. His writing is truly enjoyable.
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