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The Best Recent Reader Reviews posted at Bookbrowse

The Best Recent Reader Reviews

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  • Extinction
    by Douglas Preston

    compelling murder mystery and cutting-edge science by She Treads Softly (4/6/24)
    Extinction by Douglas Preston combines a compelling murder mystery and cutting-edge science in a Michael Crichton-esque plot. This excellent mind-blowing thriller is very highly recommended. One of the best!

    The exclusive Erebus Resort is located in a hundred-thousand acre valley of in the mountains of Colorado. Through genetic manipulation Erebus specializes in the "de-extinction" of Pleistocene megafauna, like woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, Irish Elk, giant armadillos, and the indricothere. These prehistoric animals have had their genes for aggression removed for the safety of the visitors at the resort. For their honeymoon Mark and Olivia Gunnerson go backpacking at Erebus to see the prehistoric animals there and then disappear in the night.

    County Sheriff James Colcord notes the obvious attack on the couple left behind a copious amount of blood but no bodies, so Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances (Frankie) Cash is called in to track down the perpetrators. Since Mark is the son of a wealthy billionaire, the first assumption is a gang of eco-terrorists are trying to send a message about the resort.

    This is a gripping murder mystery full of extinct creatures, perpetual tension, breathtaking twists, and shocking developments that gallops at a heart-stopping pace. Once you start reading the ingenious narrative you will not want to stop until you reach the unpredictable, stunning final denouement. Once the plot took off, I was following in what ever direction Preston led me. I kept trying to predict what was going to happen and was surprised at every turn.

    What made Extinction even better (if that were possible) are the variety of fully realized characters and personalities that populate the novel. Frankie and Colcord are great characters and the interaction between the two is appealing even when they seemingly clash. All the supporting characters are presented as unique individuals and you will easily distinguish between them while reading as fast as possible to see what in the world is going to happen next.

    Additionally, much like Crichton, Preston has done his research and knows the science behind the direction his plot takes. At the end of the novel Preston shares the real science and the direction it is taking right now. Great characters, action-packed plot, and expert plotting and pacing make this one of the best novels of the year. Thanks to Forge Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

  • A Piercing and Perceptive Tale of the Havoc Wreaked When Egos Collide and Sexual Tensions Run High by Cathryn Conroy (4/5/24)
    This is a sneaky book. It starts off at a crawl with the characters and plot unraveling at a slow, deliberate, and measured pace…until wham! At about the halfway point, the book just grabbed me in an intense, haunting, and almost disturbing way. I was sucked into it like quicksand. At first it was nothing, and then it wouldn't let go. And I couldn't stop reading.

    Written by Lily King, this is award-winning literary fiction that is a diamond in the rough. It's the early 1930s. American Nell Stone and Brit Schuyler Fenwick, known as Fen, are married anthropologists studying primitive tribes living along the Sepik River in New Guinea. Nell has just published a mainstream book (that is, not an academic treatise) on Samoan child-rearing that includes information on their sexual practices. The book is a bestseller, giving Nell publicity and money. All Fen has done is publish a single academic monograph. He is deeply envious of Nell's commercial success, which has also landed them a lucrative grant for their work in New Guinea. As they are leaving one tribe, they meet up with another anthropologist, Andrew Bankson. At first, his friendship supports and strengthens Nell and Fen's troubled marriage, but soon enough Bankson's erotic feelings and sexual desire for Nell create a love triangle that infuriates Fen, who is determined to do something completely inappropriate and unethical—and as it turns out, tragic—to cement his own professional status over Nell.

    The book is written primarily from Bankson's perspective in the first person. But other chapters from Nell's perspective are written in the third person, as well as excerpts from her journals that Bankson is given years later. Bankson has his own issues. His father and two brothers are dead, and Bankson has tried, but failed, to die by suicide. His professional life is stalled. He is deeply unhappy. But everything changes when he meets Nell.

    And the ending is oh so sad.

    This is a piercing, and perceptive tale of the human heart and the havoc that is wreaked when egos collide, sexual tensions run high, and smart people lose their sense of boundaries.

    A note: The book was inspired by events in the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead and her relationships with her second and third husbands, R.F. Fortune and Gregory Bateson. Some of the story is true to Mead's life, and some of it is imagined.

  • Brilliant! A Story of Vietnam You've Never Heard Before…A Story of the Women, the Wives by Cathryn Conroy (3/30/24)
    In a word: brilliant!

    This is a book about Vietnam in the very early days of the war, a story you've never heard before. This is a book about the women, the wives of the important men—diplomats, engineers, intelligence officers, attorneys, and military brass. These bright young men were sent to Saigon in the early '60s to do mostly secret work while their pretty little wives threw garden parties and cocktail parties with local servants doing all the work. This is a book about two of those women, who didn't exactly fit the mold.

    Written 60 years later as a kind of memoir/letter by Tricia to her friend Charlene's daughter, Rainey, this is the story of a brief stint in Vietnam in 1963. Peter and Tricia are working class Irish Catholics from Yonkers. He is eight years older than she and is in Vietnam working as an attorney for Navy intelligence. They are desperately trying to have a baby. Charlene and her husband, Kent, have been there a while with their three children, 8-year-old twins Rainey and Ransom and baby Roger. Charlene is pretty, smart, bossy, a bit of a bully, and a vivacious hostess; she also has a passion for "doing good" that is wonderful but heartbreaking in who gets hurt in the process. Life is so different for these women, and not only because they are in Vietnam. They are considered nothing more than "helpmeets" for their husbands. Trish often writes, "You have to remember how it was in those days. For women. For wives." They are women on the periphery. Women no one takes seriously. Meanwhile, outside their wealthy, guarded compounds, Vietnamese children are starving, families are living in abject poverty, and people are dying in surprise attacks by the Viet Cong. What is the moral obligation of these protected, pampered wives as they seek absolution in a broken, tragic place that is gearing up for a horrifying war?

    Bonus: Barbie dolls have a big part in this book—a part that is both surprising and appalling.

    Beautifully written with so many details and lush descriptions that it transports the reader back to this time and place, this remarkable novel is an enlightening and provocative expose on unseen women with unseen lives. This is a story of Vietnam you've never heard before.

  • Half a Cup of Sand and Sky
    by Nadine Bjursten

    Choices Make All The Difference by Donna C (3/26/24)
    I was immediately drawn in by the first paragraph in chapter 1 - a young woman making a choice - and the choices she makes continue throughout the whole book, just as they do for all of us during our whole lives.

    Though this story revolves around an Iranian woman's choices within the historical time of political and societal upheaval in her country, there are many parallels to others, in other countries, including our own. This particular historical journey takes us through some of the history of nuclear power, weapons and the fight for nuclear disarmament in the 70s-90s, which provides the backdrop to the protagonist's choices within her marriage & mothering, friendships, career goals, wishes and dreams.

    I found the book to be a wonderful fusion of love & marriage, family, personal growth, social change, and historical background. I learned more about the Iranian people (and their cooking), the global politics of disarmament, and how both familial and societal expectations are ever present in the choices we make wherever we are in this world.

    For me, Half a Cup of Sand and Sky was a magnificent and well-written read!

  • Historical Fiction for Newbies by Anthony Conty (3/21/24)
    “The House of Doors” by Tan Twan Eng tells interconnected tales about characters within the same realm. A married couple, Lesley and Robert, allow a famous writer and his assistant to live with them in a time of personal trouble. Secrets about their marriage arise, and drama they did not expect arises. Malaysia serves as the backdrop.

    What was going on in China at the time significantly affected the day-to-day life of this young family. Gender politics are the main struggle when Lesley’s closest female friend shockingly murders her alleged attempted rapist, and everyone assumes her guilt prematurely. Out of context, the comments to women would especially shock and anger you.

    You will need some knowledge about Chinese revolutionaries in the early 20th century, but nothing that a few fiction books could not provide. This requires the backstories of all present, including writer Willie and his assistant Gerald. They placed a particular interest in revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and his story will cure Willie’s writer’s block and search for something new. Adultery shows double standards despite widespread bigamy.

    Following along is easy since the storytelling has fewer characters than usual but more plot lines. I wanted to stay in the book, and this only increased as the story progressed. I received a cultural knowledge of “angmoh” (white people) living in Malaysia and China that I would not have known otherwise. Lesley questioned traditions that others would not.

    The engaging novel's themes echo throughout each character arc: homosexuality, gender equality in marriages, and the Chinese revolutionaries in the 1920s. All historical fiction worth its salt shares this. These novels exist to remind us how little we know about Chinese history and why so many of these stories exist. My favorites from the past two years have been by Asian authors.

  • America's Secluded Shame by Carmel B (3/21/24)
    Meissner’s searing chronicle of the lives of Rosie and Helen is the most enlightening I have read since reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” when I was fifteen years old. I am now seventy-five. I learned three new words within the first few chapters: Eugenics, Salpingectomy and Synesthesia. It is also the first time I have ever read the “Acknowledgements” section at the end of any book and was astonished at its revelations. Fellow readers, this one is hard to put down and the kernels of truth informing its plot and characters harder to dismiss when you finally turn the reading lamp off at bedtime. As Meissner reminds us, "Let us not forget our past, lest we repeat it."

  • And Then She Fell
    by Alicia Elliott

    a cleverly written, interesting and thought-provoking read. by Cloggie Downunder (3/21/24)
    And Then She Fell is the first novel by award-winning, best-selling Canadian Mohawk editor and author, Alicia Elliott. At twenty-six, Haudenosaunee woman Alice Dostator is married to Steve Macdonald, a white man, has a six-week-old daughter, Dawn, is living off reservation in the city of Toronto, and is still grieving the loss of her mother, when she once again begins hearing voices. It’s not the first time, but as a teen, she blocked them out with alcohol and pot.

    Now, she’s having difficulty connecting with her baby, is getting very little sleep, and is expected to behave in a manner that makes her an asset to Steve’s attempt to get tenure in the anthropology department. She’s getting nowhere with her writing, a retelling of the Haudenosaunee Creation Story that she now regrets telling Steve about, regrets telling anyone about.

    What she’s hearing, and seeing, has her worried: her mom said her grandma was crazy; but her Aunt Rachel assures her that Grandma was a medicine woman, spoke to spirits and saw the future. And this respected elder said that Alice has the gifts to see what others can’t. Her cousin Tanya talks about portals and gatekeepers, and the voices are telling her it’s important to complete her writing, although other voices aren’t so positive.

    It's quickly clear from her auditory and visual hallucinations, her out-of-body experiences, her delusions, and her paranoia, that Alice is not a reliable narrator. She second-guesses her own thoughts and reactions, is increasingly unsure whom she can trust, and feels the need to keep her thoughts secret even from those closest to her. Or is what she’s seeing, hearing and feeling, real?

    Elliott’s depiction of post-partum mental illness is highly credible and, informed as it is by her own experience, brims with authenticity. The novel explores white attitudes to Natives, the racism that is often unconscious or unintentional, motherhood, and Mohawk myth and legend. While more likely to resonate with Canadian readers, this is a cleverly written, interesting and thought-provoking read.

    This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Allen & Unwin.

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