The Best Recent Reader Reviews posted at Bookbrowse

The Best Recent Reader Reviews

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  • (06/14/18): The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.” His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or… And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves? Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless. You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings. Lots for book groups to discuss here.


  • (06/13/18): Warning: Many readers may find this book too dark, sad and brutal - unfortunately it is probably a very accurate of life at the time (1930's) and place (Georgia). As difficult as it was to read I was also compelled to finish the book to learn the fate of the "Gemini Twins". The author's third person narrative may be frustrating for some readers, but I enjoyed learning the main characters' thoughts and motivations. Although the chapters bounce back and forth through time, I felt the author did an excellent job of helping the reader transition from one time to another.


  • (06/06/18): Written in the true-to-life battle of workers rights, Wiley Cash does what he is so good at. It is 1929 in Appleton County North Carolina and Ella Mae Wiggins struggles to make ends meet. Ella works in the American Mill #2 - designated mill #2 because they employee African Americans in that mill. Ella is Caucasian, and not only works with but lives in the part of town that African Americans live in. Hers is the only white family there. Likewise, she is paid less money because she works alongside African Americans. She cannot make ends met. When offered a ride to a union rally, Ella accepts. Little did she know how involved she would become as a union leader. The story is told years later by her daughter, reveling the bitter and tragic life of her Mother. This novel outlines the early struggles of the labor movement in the Appalachian south. It was based on a true story. This is Cash's third novel. He continues to amaze. Like the author John Hart, you impatiently wait for the next book published and cannot get it in your hands quickly enough.

  • The Radium Girls
    The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
    by Kate Moore

    (06/06/18): Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from the early 1900's in both New Jersey and Illinois, the transcripts and family histories, pictures and quotations, the number of documents alone had to have numbered into the thousands. Extremely well put together factual story that reads like a novel from the victims point of view. Kudos to Ms Moore. Radium was not always known to be the deadly chemical that it is today. Many, many young women understood it to be very safe and even a wonder drug to be ingested freely. Until the young women who worked with it on a daily basis, with factories in both New Jersey and Illinois, started to become ill. Within months they lost all their teeth, their jaw bones crumbled, they started showing signs of bone cancer, losing limbs, even losing their lives. Their employer, the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), who suggested they "lip" the paint brushes they used in their job, insisted that the radium was not the cause of any of their workers ailments. It took the death of many young women and 38 years for the USRC to lawfully be deemed liable and forced to pay out benefits to any of the young women. In the early 40's USRC factories were raised. The rubble was taken to land fills. It takes radium 1500 years to disintegrate past the point of being lethal, which means everywhere that the rubble from those buildings were spread, in both Orange, New Jersey and Ottawa Illinois and their surrounding areas, is still contaminated. Buried in the earth, under houses, close to water supplies, just waiting for the possibility to infect its next victims. In 1979 the EPA ordered the successor of USRC to start an environmental clean up in both areas. As of 2015 the radium clean up is still in process. On the good side, this long deadly battle that our courageous fore-sisters fought brought to law the culpability of an employer being responsible for on the job safety and the beginning of the Industrial Occupational Hazards law.


  • (06/03/18): A piercing commentary on America seen through Norwegian eyes makes this novel one of the best of the year. I found myself relishing this book, rolling each word over my tongue, tasting it, digesting it and oh so appreciating it. Take one smart ass sheriff and mix it with an erudite logical police officer (Sigrid)from Norway and you have the basis for a story that cannot fail to delight and one that you may want to read over and over. When Sigrid's brother, Marcus who is living in the US, disappears, Sigrid travels to the USA to try and find him and see what is wrong. All of the police force believe that Marcus is responsible for the death of a black female college professor with whom he was having a relationship. However, Sigrid refuses to believe this and uses her scholarly investigative capacities to try and convince the sheriff that there could be other alternatives. I suppose this could be labeled a mystery but it was such a wonderfully drawn and unconventional novel that discusses race relations(at a level I found enamoring), religion, individualism that it is so much more. If you are looking for a novel to make you think, race to get this. I bet you will not be disappointed.


  • (06/02/18): Lots of twists and turns and I'm still taking it in after finishing it. The ending didn't bother me at all, in fact I don't think it's an ending, but perhaps a beginning for another part of their life, if the author chooses to pursue it. If not, you can hardly speculate what's going to happen with a child in their lives, but kind of intriguing to think about. Amy was incredibly brilliant as the villianess, I had to admire her craftiness and cunning, even though she was the ultimate she-devil. The author did a great job with weaving the dynamics of this intertwined relationship . It's a powerful codependent hate/love story to the conniving max. I found myself living vicariously in her antics. Wishing I had known her years ago when I went through a bad relationship, I'm sure she could of gave me some tips. But she's way too extreme in a crazy, psycho, manipulating, cunningly supreme, way. Even her husband had to stand in awe of her abilities and recognize her 'talent' in the most of his most lowest points. She was his crash course in absurdity and the many moods of marital obsession and I think he got it. He became a learned student. Let the games begin ... he's ready.


  • (05/30/18): I went into this thinking that it would be an "issues" book, but it is far more than that. It is really a character study of a particular woman, a particular mother over time. That this particular mother adopted a child of another race was important and would certainly generate discussion in a book group, but what fascinated me was Rebecca herself, her feelings, her motivations. I won't say that I liked her, because I didn't, not always, but Alam made me want to know what she was thinking. Recommended for readers who like literary fiction with compelling female characters and who don't mind if the "action" is interior growth. Good for book groups.


  • (05/30/18): “When you are drawing you are actually learning how to see. You do this through looking. Looking is untarnished glass. No green bits of judgement hanging from the lens. In order to draw you must to learn to see how things are – not how you wish they were, or once were” Paint Your Wife is the 10th fiction book by New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones. It starts with the mayor of New Egypt, Harry Bryant returning from a visit to his son in London. It is the late 1990s, and Harry’s town, on the North Island of New Zealand, has fallen on hard times. The paint factory has closed up; ideas for tourist attractions fail to gain funding; long-time locals are beginning to abandon the town for more prosperous places. In a last ditch attempt to attract attention, Harry gets Alma Martin to reproduce his old portraits of the town wives in a public space: it generates some outside interest, but also acts as a sort of catalyst for the locals, as does the arrival at Harry’s place of business (Pre-Loved Furnishings and Curios),of a young couple with twins, looking for accommodation. Alma Martin lives in the old Fire Warden’s cottage on the hill near Harry’s mother’s farm. He has tried his rather talented hand at quite a few things: colour technique at NE Paints; teaching; wartime rat catching; and, in lieu of payment for said rodent extermination, sketching and painting the wives of the town. His most constant model was his neighbour, Alice Hands, but all the women, once they got the hang of sitting (“It is hard to know what to do with yourself the first time you sit. You are suddenly aware of your arms and legs, too aware, and as soon as that awareness slips into place it’s as if those limbs were never really an integral part of you at all, but clumsy add-ons”) were happy to do so: “As far as the rest of the women in the district were concerned, to be looked at or observed as rare as sugar or chocolate. They could have looked in the mirror, of course. But there is nothing like another’s eyes to set us alight, to make our nerves stand on end, to tell us, in effect, who we are” They learned to be silent because: “When a sitter begins to talk the pose loses all its binding; arms and legs fall away, the mouth widens, the tongue waggles, a sense of form withers” and enjoyed his attention (“You know something, Alma, when you are drawing I feel like you’re touching me”) and even his talks on art and artists (“It was the war years and everything was in short supply – including stimulation. Like plankton eaters they sat with their mouths and minds wide open”). Jones gives the reader a cast of charming and often quirky characters; the vignettes that fill in their backstories are captivating; there is plenty of humour and a fair share of wisdom; the feel of the town is well-rendered; the descriptive prose is a joy to read, making it difficult to choose just a few quotes to illustrate this. “In quick time the surrounding farmland revealed itself, straw-coloured, the black flecks of telegraph poles; and on the far edge of everything stood the ranges, in shadow at this time of day, but their jaws dropped open in the February heat” and “Some strain told on the window panes - a tension where the floor went one way and the windows another; it was an arrangement that made the ordinary blue sky sing in the way glass achieves in chapels and courtrooms” and “He tells her that it’s like trying to nail a fast-moving cloud to the one spot in the sky. Hopeless if the sky is moving about too” are good examples. Alma’s advice on drawing is also superbly expressive: “Light and shadow, he liked to say, are in constant negotiation as to which parts of the world the other can have” and “…seeing is not the same as looking. And in learning how to draw what you really learn is how to see. Once you learn how to see, good or bad or better doesn’t come into it” are just two illustrations of this. This offering by Jones is a delightful read, moving and uplifting, and loaded with gorgeous prose. This book was originally published in 2004, two years before the prize-winning Mister Pip, but this new edition by Text Publishing has wonderfully evocative cover art by W.H.Chong. Highly recommended.


  • (06/14/18): The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.” His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or… And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves? Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless. You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings. Lots for book groups to discuss here.

  • One Child
    The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment
    by Mei Fong

    (05/20/18): This account of China's one child policy shows the far reaching unintended or latent consequences of this social policy. On the surface we think of the intended consequences of a social policy being put into place. Now looking retrospectively we can see the consequences are multidimensional. They are cultural, economic and political. The part that brought the most surprise to me was the impact on aging parents and who would care for them. I intend to use this book in one of my sociology courses to demonstrate the impacts a social policy can make and how we need to use a holistic approach when policies are being made. This a a very good read for anyone interested in the cultural aspect of economics and politics.

  • The Midnight Watch
    A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian
    by David Dyer

    (05/19/18): The Midnight Watch is the first novel by Australian teacher and author, David Dyer. While the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912 will be familiar to most people, the part played in the drama by the master and crew of the SS Californian is probably less well-known. While it is argued about, many accept that the Californian was the ship closest to Titanic when she sank; was, in fact, within sight of Titanic, and did not react when Titanic fired off eight distress rockets at five-minute intervals, except to signal with the Morse lamp. Nor did they try to contact the Titanic via wireless. Dyer tells the story of what probably happened on the Californian that night, what the master and the crew did, and what occurred on their arrival in Boston, as well as their testimonies at the subsequent US Senate Inquiry in Washington DC and the British Inquiry in London. His narrator is John Steadman, a fictional journalist for the Boston American, whose story was instrumental in forcing master and crew to appear before the Inquiries. The latter section of the book is a story titled Eight White Rockets, which Steadman has written as “an account the sea tragedy of the Titanic and the Sage Family”, an actual family of eleven which perished in the sinking. Dyer’s story is historical fiction but is based on fact. Many of the characters he fills out for the reader actually existed, and much of what he describes is backed up by witness accounts. Some of it is likely to leave the reader gasping. Dyer’s expertise in this field is apparent on every page. It should be noted that he spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His talent as an author ensures that this already-fascinating story takes on a human aspect. As well as being interesting and informative, this is a moving and captivating read.

  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    A Story of War and What Comes After
    by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil

    (05/14/18): This is one of the most difficult books I have read, yet it is an essential read. It is at once a memoir and an expose. How can I ever relate to Clemantine’s life? I will never know her tragedy. The terrible genocide that was visited upon the Tutsi by the Hutu majority government becomes more than real in Clemantine’s telling. I will never think of a refugee camp again with anything but horror.


  • (04/21/18): It all began with a cruise on a ship out in the wild seas. This family decided to make good on having a good time on a cruise. The writer made it clear from the beginning and so readers knew that from this came various scenes and misfortune. Here is a short summary of the names of characters and events which I will tear apart with my intellect: When Liv and Nora decide to take their families on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite with this family. Love the nonstop buffet and the independence they have at the Kids' Club. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor misfortunes leads the families farther and farther from the ship's safety. One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone. This summary was perfect but is the writer's narration? I like the writer's style of the story. It includes the kids which were very intelligent and smart. This story had good insight and I kept reading on and on. I found no errs and I was surprise by that as usually a story like this had few errs but the writer was cleaver enough and very intelligent. The only little flaw I had was that none of the kids knew Spanish well enough to know what the strange men and women were saying. These kids were frightened and hungry but also need medication. I was pleased with the plot because no info was given about what the men were doing with a shovel in the forest. My rating is high and I recommended this book to all readers.


  • (04/16/18): Absolutely wonderful family saga. I fell in love with all the characters, the transitions between each one was incredibly well done, no make that flawless. The narrative has an easy, natural flow - simple yet detailed drawing the reader into the family fold. The beauty of the book - it takes an ordinary family dealing with everyday life and the roller coaster life can be. I could not put this book down, I cannot wait to continue the journey. Smiley is one incredible storyteller.


  • (04/08/18): I loved this novel. It is funny, so funny I laughed out loud. It accurately and lovingly reflects how music truly entrances and collects musicians even before they become musicians. It is also brutally honest about musical prodigies, success and failure, dreams and reality. It is unpredictable and weaves a mystery, both past and present in an atmosphere that is ordinary yet chillingly creepy. It is also a coming of age story with characters so fully developed they rise off the page and follow you from room to room, leaving you to wonder of their futures beyond the book. Its mystery takes actions of the past and rolls them into the future almost like the skipping needle on an old record, turning endlessly then bumped into the next track dragging that skidding noise along with it.


  • (04/08/18): This book made it to my "top 5 of 2017" list, and is certainly my favorite type of fiction (although usually this happens more with historical fiction, and less with contemporary fiction - of which this is essentially both), shining a light on real people about whom we know little to nothing about, and Rooney's spotlight was as startlingly bright as it was flattering. To begin with, Rooney's writing style is so sophisticated and charming that you can't help but believe that Lillian was not only a talented writer and poet, but that she must have been even more beguiling than Rooney portrays her. Rooney's use of language is also endearingly witty, and I'm trying to figure out how many words in the thesaurus I'll need to use to describe this book, because it's already starting to run out of appropriate adjectives. As you can see, I'm in love with this book, and that makes it terribly difficult to review without becoming so effusive that my readers get sick of me. So rather than go on and on with piles of compliments that get not only whipped cream but several cherries on top, I'm simply going to say that I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and it deserves more than just a full five stars out of five! (Note to self: where have you been all my reading life, Kathleen Rooney?)


  • (04/05/18): This is a fascinating story - fiction plus history and culture of Korea. Relatable characters, cultural developments, insight into family relationships, conflicts with Japan, hints about the budding of North Korea - it's all here!

  • Educated
    A Memoir
    by Tara Westover

    (03/20/18): At first it might seem abit difficult to read. Impossible to put down. A powerful, powerful book that you shouldn’t miss. I can’t just leave it at that because Tara Westover’s story deserves more than those few words. I don’t often read memoirs, but when I do I want them to be told by extraordinary people who have a meaningful story to tell and that would be faint praise for this book. It sounds odd to say how beautifully written this is because we are not spared of the ugly details of what this family was about, but yet it is beautifully written. I had to remind myself at times that I wasn’t reading a gritty novel, that Tara and her family were real as I got more than just a glimpse of a life that was hard for me to even imagine. A religious fanatic father, hoarding food and guns and bullets and keeping his family off the radar, not filing for birth certificates, not getting medical attention when they needed it, avoiding the government, the feds at all cost , keeping his children out of school, the paranoia, the preparation for the “Days of Abomination” - this is what we find in this place on a mountain in Idaho. There are horrible accidents and he won’t get medical help for his family. Her mother’s healing herbs and tinctures are used to treat the slightest scrape to the most horrible head injury or burns from gasoline to an explosion. If some thing bad happens it because that’s the will of the Lord. Her mother seems at times more sympathetic to her children, but she is complicit by her subservience to her husband. I don’t even know how to describe it other than gut wrenching to see the effects on this family of neglect in the name of religious beliefs and in reality mental illness. It isn’t just her father but the brutality by one of her brother’s which is more than awful and creates rifts between family members, That she was bold enough and somehow found the will to rise above it all while she is torn with the sense of duty, of loyalty to her family, the ingrained beliefs, still loving her family is miraculous. Going to college was the first time she’d been in a classroom, not knowing what the Holocaust was, learning about slavery, the depression, WWII, the civil rights movement. She doesn’t just get a college education but ultimately a PhD from Cambridge, a Harvard fellowship. She struggles for years to discover who she was, who she could be - a scholar, a writer, an independent woman. This is a stunning, awe inspiring story that will haunt the reader long after the book ends. Thank you to Tara Westover for sharing yourself with us. It was well worth the reading late nights.

  • The Radium Girls
    The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
    by Kate Moore

    (06/06/18): Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from the early 1900's in both New Jersey and Illinois, the transcripts and family histories, pictures and quotations, the number of documents alone had to have numbered into the thousands. Extremely well put together factual story that reads like a novel from the victims point of view. Kudos to Ms Moore. Radium was not always known to be the deadly chemical that it is today. Many, many young women understood it to be very safe and even a wonder drug to be ingested freely. Until the young women who worked with it on a daily basis, with factories in both New Jersey and Illinois, started to become ill. Within months they lost all their teeth, their jaw bones crumbled, they started showing signs of bone cancer, losing limbs, even losing their lives. Their employer, the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), who suggested they "lip" the paint brushes they used in their job, insisted that the radium was not the cause of any of their workers ailments. It took the death of many young women and 38 years for the USRC to lawfully be deemed liable and forced to pay out benefits to any of the young women. In the early 40's USRC factories were raised. The rubble was taken to land fills. It takes radium 1500 years to disintegrate past the point of being lethal, which means everywhere that the rubble from those buildings were spread, in both Orange, New Jersey and Ottawa Illinois and their surrounding areas, is still contaminated. Buried in the earth, under houses, close to water supplies, just waiting for the possibility to infect its next victims. In 1979 the EPA ordered the successor of USRC to start an environmental clean up in both areas. As of 2015 the radium clean up is still in process. On the good side, this long deadly battle that our courageous fore-sisters fought brought to law the culpability of an employer being responsible for on the job safety and the beginning of the Industrial Occupational Hazards law.

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The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

A nuanced portrait of war, and of three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold.

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