Reviews by Techeditor

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan
Essential can't-put-it down nonfiction (9/24/2023)
How can a smart and industrious person suddenly be crazy? There are several possibilities, but Susannah Cahalan was lucky enough to be in the right place with the right doctors at the right time. They fixed her. How many other people who were put in psychiatric wards and institutions might also have been fixed if they were in the right place with the right doctors at the right time?

This is what Cahalan asks in BRAIN ON FIRE, her book that examines what happened to her when she was a 24-year-old writer for THE NEW YORK POST, living in an apartment with her cat in Hell's Kitchen, and dating a guy she used to work with (who I fell in love with).

After days with indications that something was wrong with her, Cahalan went to the hospital, where she really did go crazy. She went through test after test while doctors tried to discover whether her state of mind had some physical cause. It did, and now they had a name for it: anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis.

No one knows what caused Cahalan's disease, but her decent into madness was fast. And over her 28-day hospital stay a team of doctors discovered why and how they could fix her. BRAIN ON FIRE is a scientific thriller as Cahalan explains what happened.

This is truly a five-star book. Now I'm anxious to read her next one.
Between Shades of Gray: A Novel
by Ruta Sepetys
A story that needs to be told (9/18/2023)
In BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, Ruta Sepetys describes how, even as the Soviet Union opposed Germany during World War II, they were ripping people from their homes, taking everything they owned, and exiling them to extreme hardship in Siberia. Her characters are fiction, but the book is based on fact.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY begins in Lithuania when the Soviets took over in 1941 and erased it from the map. Lena is 15 and her brother is 10. Simply because their father is a university provost, they and their mother are sent to Siberia, their father to prison. Sepetys describes the next two years of their lives.

My only criticism of the book is the babyish way in which Sepetys refers to some of the characters. For example, one of the children who has also been deported to Siberia is referred to throughout the book as "the girl with the dolly." Sixteen-year-old Lena (her age by the story's end) apparently never considers that "the girl with the dolly" has a name. The same goes for "the man winding his watch," "the bald man," and various other characters who she lives with for 2 years. Granted, this is a novel written for young adults. But this sounds more like it is for 3 year olds.

More importantly, though, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a story that needs to be told. Not enough people remember it or are aware of it, even today. As an adult, I read and enjoyed it; this is a crossover novel, meant for both young adults and adults.
The Covenant of Water
by Abraham Verghese
Fabulous, Lovely, and Not Long Enough (8/29/2023)
This is, in a word, fabulous. How can I adequately review THE COVENANT OF WATER to convey just how fabulous it is? This book is lovely from beginning to end. It's a big one, but, honestly, you'll wish Abraham Verghese had made it longer.

THE COVENANT OF WATER is mostly about a certain family in India, from the time a 12-year-old girl is made to marry a man in his 40s. He turns out to be a good and kind man, but he has a physical "condition" that runs in his family. This condition is real, by the way, and has a real name, but it is a mystery throughout this story.

THE COVENANT OF WATER also has another main character, a man from Scotland who comes to India to practice medicine. His story is dramatic, but after a time Verghese seems to forget about him. Don't worry (as I did), he'll be back.

If you have been wondering what Verghese has been doing in the years since CUTTING FOR STONE, here it is, one of the best books you'll ever read (along with CUTTING FOR STONE, probably).
Mercury Pictures Presents: A Novel
by Anthony Marra
You may be disappointed (8/10/2023)
Anthony Marra‘s A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA was so wonderful that I read his second book, THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO, without bothering to first read its reviews. So I was disappointed; it did not measure up to CONSTELLATION. Still, when his most recent book, MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS, came out, I bought it. And, again, it doesn’t measure up to CONSTELLATION. “Fool me twice, shame on me."

If you want to read MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS because you loved CONSTELLATION, be warned that you will be disappointed.
Happiness Falls: A Novel
by Angie Kim
Amazing (8/9/2023)
I didn't see how Angie Kim could do better than her earlier book, MIRACLE CREEK. But I'm happy to tell you she did. I'm amazed with HAPPINESS FALLS and in more ways than one.

Mia tells the story that begins with her missing father. During her family's search for him, they learn many partial truths. Did they really know him as well as they thought?

Even more so, this book is about Eugene, Mia's younger brother. He is autistic and also has Angelman syndrome, which is so misunderstood both in this story and in real life. They did not know Eugene as well as they thought.

HAPPINESS FALLS deals not only with a missing father but, also, a suspect brother who cannot communicate. In so doing it amazes as it takes on many issues and surprising twists.

And in the end, is there really a determination?

This review is of an advanced copy of HAPPINESS FALLS.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot
by Marianne Cronin
It didn't grab me (8/3/2023)
Maybe you shouldn't take my word for it; most of the members of my book club liked this book. But I prefer books that grab my attention, and THE ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF LENNI AND MARGOT didn't.

I can say this for the book: it is cute. But that isn't enough to grab me.
The Stranger Inside
by Lisa Unger
Not as great as most Lisa Unger books (7/21/2023)
Rain, whose real name is LAHraine but has also been known as Lara, was a journalist who is now trying to make it as a stay-at-home mom. Her husband is handsome, thoughtful, and all-forgiving, so much so that he seems unreal. Rain has a troubled past that affects her even now as an adult. When she was 12 her two friends Hank and Tess were abducted by a mentally unstable man, Kreskey, who seriously hurt Hank and murdered Tess. Rain was mauled by Kreskey's dog but escaped abduction.

THE STRANGER INSIDE moves among, essentially, three periods: the present, during and after the abduction, and the time of Kreskey's murder, all three sometimes in the same chapter. I didn't have a hard time following the story, but I can see how some people might. I did find a lot of repetition, though, which made me want to skip paragraphs.

As adults, both Hank and Rain seem to have a stranger inside. THE STRANGER INSIDE is about them and their strangers and how the four of them deal with their past.

It's a putdownable book. Not that it is bad; it just did not impress me the way many Lisa Unger books do.
The Writing Retreat: A Novel
by Julia Bartz
Way too slow (6/28/2023)
It was slow going, but I made it to the end. What a disappointment this was! I had read so many good reviews of THE WRITING RETREAT, my expectations were high.

This has a good premise. Alex, a writer, is invited to a writing retreat at the secluded home of a famous author who she has greatly admired for many years. So she quits her job, goes on the retreat, and meets the four other female writers who were also invited, one who she has known intimately. Yes, our female Alex is discovering her sexuality throughout the book.

Right away it gets creepy. But Alex and the others are so enamored with their hostess, the famous author, that they accept what I think should be unacceptable. And, of course, they get snowed in, so they can't leave, anyhow.

What could have been exciting is slow and stretched out. I truly cannot recommend THE WRITING RETREAT.
Like the Appearance of Horses
by Andrew Krivak
These men and their family are shaped by war (5/17/2023)
LIKE THE APPEARANCE OF HORSES is the third book in a trilogy. But I cannot compare it to Andrew Krivak's other books because this is the first of his I've read. I had no problem reading it as a standalone, though.

The first main character, as I think of him, is Jozef Vinich. We learn about his serving in World War I and are told about his life. But I know from reading other reviews that Jozef first appeared in an earlier book.

A few years after Jozef is back in the US after World War I, Bexhet appears at his door. He is only 15 years old and has traveled from Hungary in search of Jozef. Apparently, he was with Bexhet's mother when she gave birth to him and died. Jozef brought the newborn Bexhet to his grandfather, a gypsy. Bexhet's father is unknown. When Bexhet's grandfather saw that trouble was coming to Europe, he sent Bexhet away. So Jozef takes him in and loves him as a son.

Becks (as they call Bexhet) ends up marrying Jozef's daughter, Hannah. I think of him as the second main character. He is in World War II and serves more than honorably but is jailed as a deserter. We learn how that came about. After 2 years, he is released and goes home. He and Hannah have two sons.

Samuel, the second son, is the third main character, as I think of him. He joins the Marines and is sent to Vietnam where he eventually becomes a POW. Much changes with his family back home. They assume after a year that he is dead. But when he comes home and sees all the changes, he doesn't handle them well. He ends up leaving and, after traveling (accidentally) west, going to see a fellow Marine in West Virginia.

I'm surprised that I wasn't already familiar with Krivak. He really is quite good. So I would have said this is a five-star book but for some problems I had with it.

This is a character-driven story presented in a unique way. He starts with the end of each story, then goes back to tell the story from the beginning and fill in your questions. Sounds like something you won't like, I know, but it somehow works. It might drive you crazy until you understand this presentation style, though.

Krivak is inconsiderate to his readers in some ways.

* Many of his sentences are so long it is difficult to remember the subject and to find the predicate. Those sentences lose their meaning until you re-read them.
* He does not use quotation marks, which were invented to aid readability.
* Some sections are way too detailed and risk losing the reader.

But Krivak is considerate to his readers in other ways. He did something that can aid you considerably and that keeps LIKE THE APPEARANCE OF HORSES from becoming just a three-star book. He provides a list of characters, along with who each is, at the end of the story (or stories as I think of them). I wish all authors would do this.

Read this book in spite of its problems. You should be glad you did. I am.
The Widow Nash
by Jamie Harrison
Enticing storyline but too much unnecessary detail (4/16/2023)
Once I passed page 300, I enjoyed THE WIDOW NASH. Up to that point, it interested me, only. I kept thinking that something was going to happen to grab my attention. And something did. It just took too long.

Dulcy was engaged to her father’s handsome business partner. But she found in time that he was a creep so broke off the engagement. He didn’t like that one single bit. He needed her to help figure out where her father hid their business earnings.

Rather than get stuck with this horrid man, Dulcy decides to disappear. She travels west and becomes the widow Nash.

This was an enticing enough storyline to keep me reading. But I had to put up with paragraph upon paragraph of unnecessary detail until I passed page 300.
The Giver of Stars
by Jojo Moyes
Unpopular opinion: this didn’t wow me (3/29/2023)
Although it took about 100 pages before Jojo Moyes’ THE GIVER OF STARS was a story, in the end, I liked it. This is historical fiction about packhorse librarians in Depression-era Kentucky. Mainly, two stories are going on, both about particular librarians. Although the packhorse-librarian program was fact, I assume each of these stories is fiction. At least I can't find anything on the Internet about an English packhorse librarian in Kentucky or a packhorse librarian accused of murder.

As I read THE GIVER OF STARS, I was irritated that this is the third book my bookclub has read this year about librarians. And two of those books, one THE GIVER OF STARS and the other THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson, are both about packhorse librarians in Kentucky. As a matter of fact, while I was researching how much of THE GIVER OF STARS is true, I learned that Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarism.

At any rate, although I did enjoy THE GIVER OF STARS, I wasn’t wowed by it. The historical parts are fine, but some of the details in the librarians’ stories seemed implausible to me.
Broken: A Novel
by Karin Slaughter
Combination of Grant County Series and Will Trent Series (3/13/2023)
BROKEN is a book in a series I've been reading out of order, and I enjoyed it so much. I've read all of Karin Slaughter's series books out of order, and I've always enjoyed them. No one book depends on another; each can be read as a standalone. That’s the best kind of series, each book well written and complete.

This book combines Slaughter’s Will Trent series with her Grant County series when Sara, a doctor at an Atlanta hospital in the Will Trent series, is visiting family in Grant County, where she formerly practiced medicine. She becomes concerned about the apparent suicide of a former patient in the Grant County jail.

Trent, as special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, is assigned to investigate the suicide. He normally lives and works in Atlanta and is already acquainted with Sara. Together and separately they encounter resistance from the Grant County police, not only in their investigation of the suicide but, also, in the department's own dealings with other cases. The corruption in that department is quite different from how it was run when Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, Sara's husband in the Grant County series, was alive.

In the meantime, although Trent and Sara are not romantically involved, the beginnings of something are hinted at. This is probably mostly because Trent is married. Because I've already read books later in the Will Trent series, I know how awful she, Angie, is and how lucky I was that she did not appear in this book.

If you think you are familiar with Angie because you watch the Will Trent television series, you're not. The Angie on TV and the Angie in the books do not look alike, sound alike, or act alike.
Exiles: Aaron Falk Mystery #3
by Jane Harper
I hope this is not the end of Aaron Falk (3/6/2023)
EXILES is further proof of Jane Harper’s writing skills. Here is another of her literate mysteries/thrillers. This book will grab you from page 1.

Aaron Falk is again the main character when he visits his friends the Racos to be their son’s godfather. While he spends a week in this small Australian town, he solves two mysteries.

Kim, the ex-wife of one of the Raco brothers, since remarried, has been missing for a year. Most presume that she is dead. Falk looks into this case at the insistence of his friend’s niece.

Another case, now six years old, involves the dead husband of a woman he meets there. Her stepson still wants to find the hit-and-run driver who killed him.

I’ve read all of Harper’s books and anxiously await her next one. But I heard her say that she is dropping Aaron Falk as a recurring character. I hope she changes her mind, and I think she might. She seems to have made an opening so she can bring him back if she wants to.
The Survivors: A Novel
by Jane Harper
Are a Missing-Persons Case From Twelve Years ago and a Murder Today Related? (2/26/2023)
It’s not for nothing that Jane Harper is one of my favorite authors. I can pick up anything she’s written and know I’m going to love it. This has been proven true once again by her book THE SURVIVORS.

As with all of Harper’s books, this one is both character- and plot-driven. And there’s so much going on in the small-town community of Evelyn Bay in Tasmania.

The main character is Kieran, who has come back to Evelyn Bay with his girlfriend and their baby to help his parents pack to move. The very evening they arrive a murder occurs, and he and his old friends, who all still live there, become involved as either suspects or friends of suspects. Either way, all seem to be hiding secrets.

Could this have something to do with the possible murder in a missing-persons case that happened 12 years before? Gabby, the missing person, was Kieran‘s girlfriend's best friend and the younger sister of one of his old friends. (Can we call her an old girlfriend?)

(How convenient for the story that so many of Kieran‘s old friends still live in Evelyn Bay.)

Another theme running throughout THE SURVIVORS is the guilt Kieran has been carrying around since that day 12 years ago, when a big storm hit Evelyn Bay. It seems that Kieran‘s older brother went searching for him on his boat and drowned.

You should also note the repeated mentions of all the caves and the dangerous high tides. These play big roles.

The end was a surprise to me, but it makes perfect sense. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
by Hernan Diaz
The point being? (2/19/2023)
TRUST is a really difficult book for me to review because I’m not sure that I understand it correctly. Here is what I know.

TRUST can be considered to be a novel written by Hernan Diaz. It consists of four stories: a novel written by the fictitious Harold Vanner, an autobiography (actually more fiction) written by the fictitious Andrew Bevel, a memoir (actually more fiction) written by the fictitious Ida Partenza, and a diary (again, more fiction) written by the fictitious Mildred Bevel. These stories make up the entirety of TRUST. They are not just stories within a story but, rather, stories that are the story. They are accompanied by no explanation but leave the reader to guess and not fully understand until almost the end. At least, I think I now understand, although maybe not fully.

I would say that Ida is the main character. You won’t know that until you are more than halfway through the book, though.

The novel BONDS is presented first because, you will later realize, this is the story that Ida reads first. It is the story of a filthy rich man who made out like a bandit during the Depression and is thought by some to have caused the Depression. You will later understand that BONDS is considered to be the real-life story of Andrew Bevel. The problem is, you are left to understand later too much. That makes for a frustrating read.

Next comes MY LIFE, the autobiography written by Andrew Bevel to correct the implications in BONDS. This is an unfinished manuscript. You will understand in the next story that MY LIFE is actually ghost written by Ida. And you won’t understand why it is unfinished until you read the next story. There are similarities between MY LIFE and BONDS, but you won’t be sure that the husband and wife in MY LIFE are the husband and wife in BONDS until you read the next story. I was still frustrated with a lot of unanswered questions.

Lots of questions are answered in the next story, A MEMOIR, REMEMBERED by Ida Partenza. Now Ida explains much of what I didn’t get.

FUTURES, Mildred Bevel’s diary, explains what Ida didn’t get but not until years and years later. Although Ida already understood that Mildred, not Andrew, was the main character in MY LIFE (and BONDS), she didn’t understand to what extent until she read FUTURES.

TRUST talks a lot about finances leading to the Great Depression. I found it frustrating more often than not. I’m still not sure what point Diaz was trying to make; he surely was trying to make a point.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars: A Novel
by Kristin Harmel
Fairy-Tale-Like Beginning, Rest Based on Truth (2/3/2023)
The beginning of THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS seems like a fairytale. Yona has lived deep in a forest, away from society, since she was 2 years old, when she was stolen from her German parents in the 1920s. The almost magical woman who took Yona brought her up to be well-read and well-prepared with survival skills. She seemed to know ahead of time that Yona would one day need those skills to lead a group of desperate Jews in hiding from the Germans in the 1940s. Even the book's tone sounded to me like Kristin Harmel was telling the story to a youngster. So I thought when I read this fairy-tale-like beginning that I would not like the rest of it.

After the woman who raised Yona dies, she lives by herself in the forest until she encounters a small group of Jews who have escaped the ghetto and come to the forest to hide. But they don't know how to survive in the woods. Yona teaches them. She knows instinctively when they are in danger and need to move. As time goes on, more Jews in hiding join their group. They endure and survive because they have Yona, and, for the first time in her life, she feels like she has family.

The majority of THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS is based on truth. In the 1940s groups of Jews really did hide from German soldiers deep in the forest, they really did use those survival techniques, and they really did endure the hardships and persevere as described in the book. So I thought wrong when I decided too soon that I wasn't going to like it.

Also, be sure to read the "Author's Note" at the end of the story.
This Tender Land: A Novel
by William Kent Krueger
As YA book, this is excellent (1/27/2023)
This is the first person account of “the four vagabonds,” told by 12-year-old harmonica-playing, storytelling Odie. It is 1932, in the midst of the Depression, and Odie, his older brother, Albert, their Indian friend, Mose, and six-year-old Emmy are traveling by canoe to what Odie hopes is home in St. Louis. All four are orphans who had been living in unacceptable circumstances at an Indian boarding school in Minnesota with its vicious superintendent. The life they are leaving is based on what really did go on at many Indian boarding schools.

Yes, the four are trying to escape their present environment, but the three boys are also running from the law. It is mistakenly believed that they have kidnapped Emmy.

They are paddling their canoe down rivers to their destination, often with no food. Along the way they meet people both good and bad.

Although Odie is angry with God, one person he meets who becomes his friend is a woman of God who heads religious crusades. She has the gift of being able to see someone's past. As time goes on, she recognizes that Emmy also has a gift, being able to see someone's future and sometimes being able to alter it slightly.

Of course, they meet others, too, such as a horrible man who forces them at gunpoint to work on his failing farm. They also meet many families living in "Hoovervilles," groups of people living in makeshift tents or shacks, and befriend some of them. The four vagabonds find friends to help them get where they're headed and foes trying to find them.

Although the depicted treatment of Indians and Indian boarding schools is accurate, I found other parts of this story too hard to believe. And those parts, for me, made this book seem young adultish, not meant to be questioned by an adult. As a YA book, though, this is excellent.
The Lincoln Highway: A Novel
by Amor Towles
A story of a detour (12/3/2022)
THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY is the story of a detour from a plan to travel the Lincoln Highway west from Nebraska to California. Of the three books by Amor Towles that I’ve read, RULES OF CIVILITY, A GENTLEMEN IN MOSCOW, and now THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, this one is by far his best.

After Emmett’s stint in jail and his father‘s death, he and his little brother Billy decide to move to California. But after two of Emmett's old bunkmates, Duchess and Wooley, show up, Emmett and Billy have to first take them to New York, in the opposite direction. And this is their story, an adventure told by each one of them, plus some chapters told by Emmett's and Billy’s friend, Sally.

I loved their different perspectives of the same situations, I loved their dialogue, and I loved Towles' humor. Every bit of this is unpredictable, especially the end.

What a pleasure this book is! Its only negative is Towles’ lack of quotation marks, which I think is rude to the reader.
Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover
You can believe this is true and important (11/21/2022)
For about the first half of EDUCATED, Tara Westover's autobiography, she describes the circumstances she grew up in. Her father was a survivalist who did not trust the government. So he didn't do things like register his cars or send his kids to public schools. Westover's mother made a stab at home schooling her seven children, but, to say the least, it was inadequate. Luckily, Westover's older brother taught her to read. Her father was also careless with his family's safety and didn't trust doctors or hospitals. So, when they were hurt, often as a result of his carelessness, the family depended on their mother's homeopathic remedies, even for severe burns and head injuries. Westover also had a dangerous brother who was defended and supported by both her parents.

With this background, Westover sought education, beginning with Brigham Young University. She had never even gone to high school much less graduated. But she got in when she was 16 after (pretty much) teaching herself enough to pass the ACT. (Her explanation of this doesn't sit well with me. My college in Michigan would never have let me in without examining my high school transcripts and diploma.) She soon discovered how ignorant she was of even the most well-known history such as the Holocaust and Martin Luther King's civil rights movements. But she learned as much as she could on her own and ended up impressing her professors enough to continue her education in spite of not being able to afford it. Westover kept going to various schools in the U.S. and abroad and now has her PhD in (of course) history.

Throughout the years she devoted to her education, Westover made annual trips to her home in Idaho. She wanted her parents' approval, but her father and, therefore, her mother insisted she was siding with the devil and needed to stop sinning and accept their reality, not hers. They have tried (and have been successful in most cases) to convince the rest of her family to stop associating with her until she admits she is wrong and her father is right.

Although I generally suspect that memoirs are written by people who incorrectly assume that their life story is important, in the case of EDUCATED, you can believe that it is. Also, I call this an autobiography in my first paragraph rather than a memoir because she has convinced me through her footnotes, Acknowledgements, and endnotes that it's all true.
The Mother-in-Law
by Sally Hepworth
A Misunderstood Mother-in-Law (11/6/2022)
THE MOTHER-IN-LAW is about a misunderstood mother-in-law. It’s also about whether she really killed herself and who might be responsible. The story is told in both past and present from the points of view of, of course, the mother-in-law and of, of course, the daughter-in-law.

Diane and her husband Tom were rich and in love. Tom died first, and now Diane is dead too. Their daughter Nettie will do anything to have a baby, and their son-in-law Patrick is cheating on her. Their son Ollie owns a failing business, and their daughter-in-law Lucy has been dealing with her hateful mother-in-law for 10 years. They all have reason to kill Diane. Heck, even Ollie’s business partner, who was counting on Ollie's inheritance, might have done it. But it appears that she killed herself.

This is quite a convoluted mystery, and more and more mysteries continue to show up throughout the book. The main mystery I told you. But to tell you more might spoil any of the other mysteries. I can tell you this, though: I didn’t see any of them coming.

Sometimes a book that is a mystery is a thriller as well but not so in this case. That may be the reason that it wasn’t a page turner for me. But I would say the same of an Agatha Christie novel. So, although I would give it three stars for its pace, I give it four stars for its convoluted mysteries.

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