Reviews by Susan R. (Julian, NC)

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Shadows of Berlin: A Novel
by David R. Gillham
Fantastic Book (5/6/2022)
The novel starts in 1955 in New York City where Rachel lives with her husband Aaron. Rachel has only been in the United States for several years after entering the country from Germany as a displaced person with her uncle, her only family left alive after the war. She tries to acclimate to life in New York as a housewife but is consumed with her memories of war time Berlin and the survivor's guilt that haunts her.

Even though Rachel is living what should be a happy life with her husband, her memories are easily triggered about her life in Berlin during the war. Her husband had been in the Army during the war but never left the US and she tells him constantly that he has no idea of what it was like to be a Jew in Berlin during the war...how she and her mother, a famous painter, hid in plain sight and tried not to be discovered by the Gestapo...how she never had enough food and rarely had a bed to sleep in. Every day was a struggle and when she and her mother were discovered by the Gestapo, life got much worse as they struggled to stay alive despite the ever growing threats to their lives. Now she's in New York and can buy food, travel round town, dress well and always has a place to sleep. Her husband loves her and tries to make her happy but she is so overwhelmed with her survivor's guilt that she isn't able to truly return his love. Her mind is constantly remembering her life in Germany with her mother and it takes very little for her to remember her past.

When her uncle calls and tells her that he's found one of her mother's painting at a pawnshop, she has to see it despite the memories that it brings. Rachel believed that all of her mother's paintings were destroyed by the Germans. She tries to buy it but someone else buys it first. Rachel is also an artist but won't return to her painting because she feel that her talent is nothing compared to her mother. Aaron tries to help her acclimate to her life in New York but is not successful. He would love to have children but doesn't push the issue because she just doesn't feel like she can bring a child into this world or be a good mother to her child.

I read many WWII era books but this is the first one I've read that takes such a introspective look at a survivor of the war and the way they deal with their guilt - not only that they survived and others didn't but also their thoughts that they could have done something - anything to save people that they loved. This is a beautiful look at loss and love and learning to live with memories of the past.

This is a fantastic, well written book about survival, redemption and learning to love again - not only your family but more importantly yourself. This book haunted me after I finished it and I was unable to start a new book for a few days. Even weeks after I finished it, I still think about Rachel and her valiant struggle to learn from her past and not allow her past memories control her current life.
Two Storm Wood: A Novel
by Philip Gray
After WWI (12/5/2021)
Amy is from a well to do family and believed that she would never find love. When she met Edward at a church, they both became interested in each other and went on many secret dates before he enlisted in the army. Their dates had to be secret because her parents would never approve of someone in a lower class. When she received notification that he was missing in action, presumed dead, Amy decided to go to France to find him or find his body to bring home for burial. She didn't know what to expect when she arrived in France and went to the battlefields where soldiers were working to identify the dead with many of the unknowns being buried in mass graves. She encountered barbed wire, putrid water, and rat-infested tunnels everywhere she searched. Would she ever find Edwards body or was there a chance that he was still alive?

The author did considerable research to write this book about the unknown soldiers left in France and Belgium. It's a dark book filled with grief. Parts of it were difficult to read but weren't there for shock value but were based on information from the war. Amy is well written character and what she went through to find Edward's body was horrific. Not only was she told over and over that a woman shouldn't be in that area but her determination and tenaciousness helped her through the worst times. Most women in this era would never have gone to some of the places that she went looking for information. Actually most women would have never gone at all.

This dark novel is about solders who have given their all. It's beautifully written about an often ignored time in history. Thanks to the author's research, this book gives the reader more information about WWI and the after effects - including PTSD, drug usage, shell shock and horrible injuries.

Several years ago, I visited a World War I cemetery in Belgium Military cemeteries are always sad but this cemetery was even worse. Many of the crosses had no name on them and it was depressing that so many soldiers were lost in WWI that went unnamed and uncelebrated.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review.
All the Little Hopes: A Novel
by Leah Weiss
Southern Fiction (6/29/2021)
My two favorite genres are historical fiction and southern fiction. So this book set in North Carolina in the early 1940s was a perfect book for me. It's one of few books that after I read the last page, I wanted to go back and read it for the first time again. I am probably one of the few people who hasn't read this author's first book but as soon as I finished this book down, I ordered If the Creek Don't Rise from Amazon.

The story is told from the POV of two thirteen year old girls. Lucy lives in the eastern part of NC with her family. She is a reader and a lover of Nancy Drew mysteries. She loves to learn and is always using difficult words. Allie Bert Tucker , known as Bert, is from the mountains of NC. After her mother died in childbirth, she was sent to the eastern part of the state to help an aunt she'd never met. She felt like she was the reason that her mother died and looked at this trip as a banishment from her family. "My punishment is exile from my homeland." (p 22) When Lucy and Bert meet for the first time, they decide to be friends. Eventually, the living arrangements with her aunt changes and Bert goes to live with Lucy's family. All sorts of strange happenings in the town - a man goes missing, a woman stops speaking - Lucy decides that she and Bert can be Nancy Drew and solve the mysteries. Bert isn't so sure of this but agrees because they are friends. The two girls spend their days working with bee hives because their father has a contract from the government for beeswax and in their free time, they work to solve the mysteries in town. The more they try to learn about what's going on, the more the mysteries continue to happen.

This book is a picture of a small southern town in the 40s. Along with the two main characters, there are lots of other characters - from Lucy's nurturing mom to the quirky Trula Freed who can tell the future. The main lesson that Lucy and Bert learn is that family is made up not just through blood but also through the people who love and care about you.

Fantastic southern fiction!

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
Raft of Stars
by Andrew J. Graff
Friendship (11/6/2020)
This is a book that I'd have never picked up -- a coming of age story about boys! Really? I won a copy from BookBrowse and knew I had to give it a chance. Wow - am I ever glad that I did. This debut novel was fantastic -- it not only featured the two young boys but also the adults in their lives. I laughed with the two boys and at times their friendship and honesty with each other made me cry. This is a book that I won't soon forget.

It's 1994 in a small town in Wisconsin. Fish has spent the summer with his grandfather ever since his father died three years ago. His best friend Bread lives with an extremely abusive father who constantly terrorizes him. The boys became best friends as soon as they met and they spend their summer in the woods, playing games and making up stories for their enjoyment. Until the summer night that Fish sees Bread's father hitting him and Fish grabs a gun and shoots him. The two boys know that they are in big trouble and head off into the woods to get as far away as possible. They make it to the river, make a raft and set out on their adventure to escape. They are being tracked by four adults who want to help them - Fish's mother Miranda, a wise woman full of fierce faith; his granddad, Teddy, who knows the woods like the back of his hand; Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant and poet looking for connection; and Sheriff Cal, who's having doubts about a life in law enforcement. The time the boys spend on the river is full of perilous situations that had this reader quickly turning pages to find out the outcome.

This book is more than a simple coming of age novel. It's a story about the bonds of friendship and the lengths that people will go through to help the people that they love - whether they are family by blood or family by friendship. Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. It was fantastic!
And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
by Stephanie Marie Thornton
The Real Jackie (11/29/2019)
On her author page, Stephanie Thornton says that she "retells the stories of history's forgotten women". Jacqueline Kennedy is not exactly a forgotten woman in American history but what Americans remember about her was often very different than the real person that she was. In this well-researched book, we are able to learn about the REAL Jackie - the one often hidden from the public, the person full of doubts and fears and full of love for her family.

For many younger readers, this book will be a history book. Because I was in high school when JFK was assassinated, this book brought back many sad memories. Like most Americans, I was glued to the TV for several days, watching the pageantry in DC and crying for days. At the time, it was impossible to have any feelings for the first lady other than profound respect for the way she handled the funeral, her children and herself. She later fell off the false pedestal that America had put her on when she married Onassis but was the pedestal ever really real or was she someone just like us with doubts and fears and sadness? After reading this book, I understand so much more about her - her love for her husband despite his philandering ways, her unconditional love for her children and her fear for their safety and her wish to make a mark on Washington and be a true respected partner with her husband. Even though this was fiction, I felt like I was reading Jackie's memoir. The author did so much research and it felt like she had totally captured Jackie's voice.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir
by Esther Safran Foer
Family Memories (11/9/2019)
This is a memoir of Esther's family - four generations who are unable to pass her mother's stories to each generation because her mother's memories were so terrible that she refused to talk about them. She would occasionally give a small amount of information but would refuse to answer questions. When Esther finds out that her father had been married before and had a daughter, she know that she must travel to the Ukraine to find out all she can about her half-sister.

Esther's mother and father were both the only survivors of the Holocaust in their immediate family. Since her mother refused to share information about this horrific time, Esther spent her entire life searching for answers. Armed with only a hand drawn map and an old photograph, Esther and her son travel to the Ukraine to try to get some answers to her lifelong questions about her parents' lives. She wants to find where her father hid during the war and the people who helped him, she wants to find her mother's village and anyone who remembered her and she wants to find out information about her half sister born before the war started.

It was difficult to find out too many answers since so many people were dead but she was able to find children and grand children of the people she was searching for and get information. The town her mother grew up in was totally demolished but she found someone who grew up there and was able to show her where her mother had grown up. As she and her son travel, they find mass graves where Jewish people were shot and buried. Many of the markers on these mass graves were falling apart and covered in weeds indicating that the newer generations memory of that time in history is being lost. At each mass grave and grave marker of family members, she left a picture of her family to let her ancestors know that part of the family had survived and was 'still here'.

This was a beautiful and well written memoir about one person's goal to find the memories of her mother and pass them down to future generations so that family history wouldn't be lost.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
The Big Finish
by Brooke Fossey
The Importance of Friendship at Any Age (10/9/2019)
Duffy lives in an assisted living home and Carl is his roommate. During the years that they've both been residents here, they've become best friends (in fact, Carl is the only friend that Duffy has ever had) and know everything about each other's lives. Or do they? Duffy finds out that there is a lot he didn't know about Carl, when a 20ish year old woman with a black eye and the small of alcohol on her breath climbs in the window of their room and claims to be Carl's granddaughter. Josie wants to stay in their room for a week - she says to get to know her grandfather better but Duffy knows that there is more to her story. Duffy knows that he needs to stay on his best behavior at the home because he has nowhere else to go but a nearby nursing home where people are sent to die and doesn't have the quality of care that he is getting at Centennial. He sees no choice but to get rid of Josie but Carl wants to get to know his granddaughter better and wants her to stay in their room for a week and keep her hidden from management. Despite the fact that he thinks it's a really bad idea, Duffy's friendship with Carl is so strong that he agrees to let her stay. Before long, this crotchety old man who never married or had a family, starts to feel like Josie is part of his family and he strives to help her with the demons in her life no matter what the repercussions will be in his life.

This is a book about aging, love and most of all friendship; it's about making family out of the people that you care about loving them the best you can. It's a wonderful look at bravery and love in old age when you can help someone in your 'family.' Duffy is a wonderful, well rounded character who I fell in love with and really enjoyed his journey. It made me laugh and I shed a few tears, too, but I was rooting for Duffy all the way through the book.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt: A Novel
by Andrea Bobotis
Southern Fiction (7/14/2019)
I read this beautifully written debut novel very slowly so that I didn't miss any of the lyrical writing and character development. This novel is Southern fiction at its best.

The year is 1989 and Judith Kratt is 75 years old and living in the large family home in Bound, SC with Olva, a black servant who is also her only friend. Judith has decided that she needs to make an inventory of all of the wonderful items in her home. She has no heirs but feels that she is the keeper of the Kratt family valuables and, as importantly, it's stories. "Our memories orient us just like the furniture in the sunroom." As she begins to make a list of items, she ties them to stories in her family history and at the end of every one of the 1989 chapters, there is an ongoing list of items that she's mentioned in her stories. Her memories take her back to the early 1930s when many people are suffering due to the depression. Her father is the big man in town and owns most of the mills as well as a new department store. Judith is 15 the year that the store opens and lives with her parents, sister and brother. A tragic event during this time changes the lives of her and her family forever. As Judith makes her lists in 1989, her past is gradually revealed and she is able to see her life and the effect that her attitudes as a child had on her life and the lives of the people around her. Will knowledge that she gleans from her past help her make changes or will her focus stay only on the physical items in her house?

This multi-layered story about loyalty, loss and family - not just the family that they are born into but the family created by people who love them. So sit down on that porch swing with a large glass of sweetened ice tea and prepare to walk down memory lane with Miss Judith.
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake
Family Saga (3/24/2019)
The Guest Book is a sweeping saga of three generations of the very rich Milton family from the 1930s to present day. It's the story of not only how money and privilege isolate a family from the rest of the world but the way it affects their feelings about other races and religions. Each generation feeds their views and their secrets into the next until no one is really sure what is true about the family history.

The novel begins in 1935 with Ogden and Kitty Milton and their three children. They are living a very privileged life and when a tragedy happens in the family, Ogden buys an island and a grand house in Maine to help the family become whole again. The family spends their summers on the island, entertaining all of their rich friends whose lives are reflections of their own. This all begins to break down in the next generation when the 3 Milton children grow up and realize that they want different things out of life and their values are different than their parents. Moss doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps in business but wants to write music, much to his parent's dismay. One daughter marries the man who is just like her dad but the other daughter falls in love with a Jewish man which was totally not done in their upper class lives. By the next generation, the money has run out and the grandchildren have to decide if they afford to keep the island and all of their memories. Will this decision also help uncover some of the secrets from the previous two generations that have affected their lives so much?

This book is a well written look at past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations., It examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
At the Wolf's Table
by Rosella Postorino
The Tasters (10/14/2018)
"The past doesn't go away, but there's no need to dredge it up, you can try to let it rest, hold your peace. The one thing I've learned from life is survival."

I was aware of the women who tasted food for Hitler to make sure he wasn't poisoned from reading The Taster by VS Alexander earlier this year. What makes this version of the story even more interesting is that it's based on a real person - Margot Wölk. She was Hitler's last living food taster. She had never told anyone about her experience until she was 96 and decided to tell her story. She died later the same year that she first told her story. You can read more about her and read her story if you goggle her name.

In 1943, Rosa moved to the town where her husband's parents live. Her mother has just died in a bombing in Berlin and she hasn't seen her husband since he joined the army the year before. Instead of the quiet life that she is yearning for, the SS arrive at the door and tell her that will become one of the tasters of Hitler's food. They were very worried that the Allies would try to poison Hitler so they forced a group of women to eat his food before he did. If the tasters didn't die of poison, then the food was safe for him. The ten women in the group become friends and enemies as the stress becomes unbearable.

This is a horrific story of women being forced into possible death with every bite of food that they ate. The stress of this time affected Margot for the rest of her life.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
The Kennedy Debutante
by Kerri Maher
Kick Kennedy (6/4/2018)
We have all read about the males of the Kennedy family - Joe, Jack, Bobby and Teddy and many books have been written about them and their father. Very few books have been written about the females of the family and I knew very little about them. 'The Kennedy Debutante' is about Kathleen Kennedy - nicknamed Kick. She is the fourth child in the family, right after Joe, Jack and Rosemary. It's an in depth look at her life beginning in England when her father becomes the American ambassador. As the story begins, she is being presented into society at the beginning of her debutante season in 1938. As she becomes part of the social season in London, she makes friends with the elite young people in London and gets very close to Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire and a devout Protestant. Her strict Catholicism (as well as that of her devout mother, Rose) keeps them from taking their feelings to the next level. When WWII breaks out and the Kennedy family returns to the States, Kick has to make a decision over whether her love for Billy or the beliefs of her family are the most important to her future.

This book was a wonderful look at an member of the Kennedy family that had not been written about much in the past. Along with Kick's story, there is a lot about the rest of the family, the way the parents doted on the boys and the dad included Joe and Jack in his decision making, the problems with Rosemary, plus a tidbits about all of the other kids in the family. For a family with so many words written about them over the years, this was a refreshing look at them that was full of new information for most readers.

I highly recommend this book and predict that it will be on of the popular MUST READS of the fall.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
Never Coming Back
by Alison McGhee
Mothers and Daughters (9/8/2017)
This is a beautifully written, thought provoking look at a mother and a daughter and their acceptance of each other as the mother is losing her memory to early on-set Alzheimer's. To be honest, I almost didn't read this book because I just lost my mom and I knew it would be difficult to read about losing your mom but instead this book made me more thankful for my mom because we had no great secrets and I always knew that she was a person separate from being my mom. This novel is the journey of the main character learning to love and accept her mom and to realize that he mom always put her daughter first in her life. A beautiful story!
Seven Days of Us: A Novel
by Francesca Hornak
Family Quarantine (5/30/2017)
We all have dreams of that perfect Christmas at home with our families and it never seems to happen. Imagine being in quarantine for seven days at Christas with your immediate family that you usually try to avoid at the holidays. That's just what happens in this wonderful novel about a family - who all have secrets from the others - being forced to spend seven days together.

Olivia is the oldest daughter. She is a doctor just returned from fighting an epidemic in Africa. She is serious and always questioning all of the extravagance of her family's life in England compared to the poverty she sees in Africa. Her younger sister, Phoebe, is a flighty daddy's girl who just wants to party and plan her wedding. Their Dad is a columnist who writes scathing restaurant reviews and Emma, the mom, is thrilled to have her family together for the holidays even though she has a major health secret that she plans to reveal after the quarantine. Then someone unknown to all of them joins them in their quarantine and secrets are revealed.

This is a lovely story about a family in crisis. Though it deals with some serious subjects, there is also a lot to laugh about. The characters are well written with all of their goodness and flaws on display. I loved this family and I loved this novel - put it on your tbr lists, you don't want to miss it.
Our Short History
by Lauren Grodstein
Our Short History (1/28/2017)
It may sound strange to say that a book about a single mother dying of cancer is a fantastic book, but let me tell you that it really is. Our Short History is the first book that I've read by this author and I plan to go back and read her previous books after reading this one. Many thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book for a review. (All opinions are my own.)

Karen is a successful political consultant in NYC with a young son when she finds out that she has stage IV ovarian cancer. When she got pregnant with her son, the father broke up with her and she never told him about the baby. When her son is six, he asks to meet his father. Up until this time, they had been a family of two and Karen is very apprehensive about bringing his father into her son's life. However father and son bond very quickly and despite Karen's anger over including the dad into her son's life, she realizes that time is running out for her. Will she be able to learn to share her son with his father or will she continue to try to keep them apart?

The novel is written as a book that Karen is writing for her son to read when he is grown to explain the life that they had together. I liked the style the novel was written in as she told the story of her life to her son and also added little comments about how to be good person in his life. I thought she was an extremely fantastic and well written character and the anger that she held against her ex boyfriend, her cancer and life in general is definitely justified. This is a fantastic book -- warning - keep Kleenex close at hand!
The Girl Before
by JP Delaney
The Girl Before (12/9/2016)
The Girl Before is an exciting, psychological thriller that keeps you turning pages until the end. Two women, at different times, are looking for an apartment and One Folgate Street looks like a dream come true..except for the pages and pages of requirements that they have to agree to. They both decide that they MUST live there and this is the story of what went on in the house.

What I Liked about this book:
-The plot was full of twists and turns and kept you eagerly reading to see what was going to happen next.
-The story is told in alternating chapters by the two women. Emma is the past resident of the house and Jane is the current resident. It was a great way to present the story.
-The ending was a real surprise but it was plausible - I realized that I had missed some clues along the way.

What I didn't Like
- There was too much unneeded sex.
-I am so tired of book titles with the word GIRLS in them when the characters are actually WOMEN.

Overall, I thought it was a great read and I definitely enjoyed it.
Karolina's Twins
by Ronald H. Balson
Holocaust Intrigue (7/5/2016)
Karolina's Twins is a book about the Holocaust. Even though there is a modern day story line going on too, the primary story is about what happened to Lena Woodward in Poland before and during the dark days of WWII. At the start of the book, she approaches a lawyer and investigator to help her find the twins of her best friend from home. She had promised Karolina that she would find the babies after the war but had waited over 70 years to start looking for them. Even though they all feel that it may be impossible to find the babies after so many years, Catherine and Liam listen to the horrific story of her life and try to help her.

The book is very dark, as are all books about this time period, but there are also some bright spots in the modern story line. I found the characters interesting, especially Lena and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's one that you won't want to put down until the end.

My only complaint is that there is no mention in the blurbs for this book that it is part of a series. There are a lot of references to previous cases that Catherine and Liam worked on and it would have been nice to have read those books previous to this one. I plan to go back and read them now.

This would be a very good book for book clubs because there is a lot of information contained in the book that would generate some good discussion.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book for a fair and honest review.
The Children
by Ann Leary
Family Saga (5/9/2016)
This is my first book by Ann Leary and after reading it, I plan to read her older books. I loved her characters - my favorites were Joan and Charlotte but all of the characters added to the story line. Joan and her two daughters were definitely quirky and that made the novel even more interesting and in parts very humorous.


When Whit Whitman died, he left his estate to his two begins to show cracks when Spin brings home his fiancee. Add in a caretaker who is having an affair with Charlotte and a thief in the neighborhood who breaks into houses to clean them and you have all the elements needed for a great read that you don't want to put down until the last page is read. Great story!
I'll See You in Paris
by Michelle Gable
I'll See You in Paris (12/30/2015)
I will start off this review where I usually end my reviews -- this is a great book and you need to read it! The author does a fantastic job with her main characters and with a story line that keeps you guessing until the very end. I thought that I had it figured out about 3/4 of the way through but I was way off. Its a page turner that is part mystery, part love story with some laughs in between.

The main characters are Annie, a recent college graduate, just engaged to Eric who is deployed to the Middle East and doesn't seem to know quite what to do with her life; her Mom Laurel, a very straight laced lawyer who also teaches horse back riding to handicapped students and Gladys Spencer-Churchill who may or may not be the Duchess of Marlborough. The story takes place in the early 70s, in 2001 and in the late 1800s. As difficult as it may sound to weave those time periods and women together, the author does a fantastic job of doing just that in a very entertaining way. The main setting of the book is not Paris as the title would have you believe but a run down estate in England but Paris plays a very large role in the ultimate outcome of the story. There is so much more that I could say about this novel but I don't want to give anything away so I will just say again - its a terrific book and you're going to love it!
All Is Not Forgotten
by Wendy Walker
Memories (10/24/2015)
Normally when I read a book and am not engaged by page 50, I quit reading. I was not enjoying this book - I didn't like the way the story was told by the unnamed narrator. I am REALLY glad that I gave this book a few more pages because once I found out who the narrator really was, things all started to fall into place. This was the intriguing story about trying to erase people's memories so that they don't remember a traumatic event - in this case it was Jenny who had been brutally raped. Her mother wanted the drugs used on her so that she would forget the rape and go on with her life. Her father wasn't convinced that they should do this but he deferred to his wife. So the drug is administered and Jenny loses her memory of the rape but even though the memory is erased, the feeling caused by the rape are never totally gone. This is Jenny's store but so much more. I thought that this book was a real page turner and once I got into it, I couldn't put it down.
(Note- be aware that there are some brutal rape scenes in this book.)
(Note - this book was provided by BookBrowse for a fair and impartial review)
Trust No One: A Thriller
by Paul Cleave
Trust No One (6/5/2015)
The title of the book is good advice to the reader - don't trust what Jerry tells you because you don't know if it's real or if it's his early onset Alzeheimer's twisting his memories. Is he remembering scenes from his books or did he really commit the crimes? The book is a bit confusing at first but once you get into it, it's a fantastic ride to the end. I thought that the author did a fantastic job of keeping up with all the threads of the story. I know that some people won't like the ending but I thought it went along with the rest of the book - any other ending would have seemed wrong. It's a great book and I want to read more of this author's books
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BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.