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The Best Recent Reader Reviews posted at Bookbrowse

The Best Recent Reader Reviews

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  • (01/20/20): “If the creek don't rise," debut novel by Leah Weiss, is a treasure. Set in an environment of extremes-wretched poverty amidst the majesty of the NC mountains, its inhabitants scratch out a living in primitive 1970 Appalachia. The book is written in the first person & each character tells its own story, in the dialect of the time of this isolated mountain community. The richness of the writing and its descriptive prose is a joy to read. It brings to life the culture and nature of this remote corner of years gone by. Birdie Rocas (crone/mid-wife/witch) says some of the most memorable lines: "Two men, skinny as hickory sticks, pointed their rifles at us, ready to do us wrong. I won't the cleanest woman, but they was the dirtiest men I seen all year." I didn't want this book to end and look forward to the writer's next work. Can't recommend enough!


  • (01/18/20): As with the first book, Olive Kitteridge, this is the story of a singular woman living her brief life on the coast of Maine, creating wreckage with her acerbic tongue and caustic judgments. She is deeply broken, our Olive, and not very likeable, and yet we love her and wish for her to succeed. This is the tightrope Elizabeth Strout has walked yet again in this second volume. How is it that such an unpleasant person can elicit such sympathy from us? I suspect the answer is the resonance we feel in response to her brokenness, how it chimes with our own. Though she is far more unskillful in her dealings with those around her than most of us, we have all had our moments of being the Olive in the room, the one who blurts out the ugly truth or the intolerant judgement, then wonders why we have become the pariahs. It is rather odd to call this a novel (as it was the first book), because this really is a book of short stories interconnected by a single character, who sometimes is front and center, and other times barely even mentioned. Yet it becomes the story of a single life, much like a paint-by-numbers picture becomes comprehensible with the addition of each subsequent color, different shadings and hues of Olive become more evident with each passing chapter. I particularly like her relationship to Jack Kennison, a person in whom she has met her match and who loves her despite herself, as did her late husband, Henry. But I also deeply appreciate Strout's expansion on Olive's connection to her son, Christopher, with whom she has both a deep bond and troubling animosity. She wishes to be loved by him, but seems incapable of being lovable with him. It is terribly heartbreaking, but also feels truthful and genuine. A few quick notes: first of all, though this novel would stand alone, reading the first will give this one greater depth and meaning. Second, if you have not watched the adaptation of Olive Kitteridge with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (with Bill Murray as Jack Kennison), please do. They embody the characters so thoroughly and so well, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in those roles.


  • (01/15/20): I loved this book just as I loved THE NIGHT CIRCUS. Two different reads but Erin Morgenstern is a wonderful writer. THE STARLESS SEA is a book you need to read daily or until you finish it. There is so much going on in this story and it is easy to get lost...but that doesn't take anything away from the story. In fact, getting lost is part of the story's fascination. I was always asking myself could this be happening. The characters are creative, smart and have very little fear of the unknown. Their personalities help make up this wonderful tale. They change each other's lives with love, strength and mystery. I highly recommend this book.


  • (01/15/20): I am not surprised to see that this strange and wondrous novel has generated a wide range of opinions, that it is found by some to be opaque or even pointless. As with Obreht's previous novel, The Tiger's Wife, there is a bit of magical realism to this book, whiffs of Gabriel García Márquez and Cormac McCarthy, particularly the latter in this novel of the American West. This is a fever dream of a book and it's no wonder that not everyone cozies up to it. But for my money this is an expertly realized, fascinating read, an invocation of a time and place that resonates deeply, all the more so for its tinge of unreality. All of the characters are caught in a nightmare not (entirely) of their own making and are simply making the best they can of their hard lots in the hardscrabble year of 1893. There are two parallel plots here, the first that of Lurie, an orphaned child who takes up with rough characters and runs as far as he can with them before encountering a train of camels, brought over from Asia by the United States army in the hope that they can do a better job of transporting goods across the American deserts than horses can. This is factual—I have read elsewhere about this effort, which actually seems pretty sensible (but didn't work out all that well). Lurie ingratiates himself with the camel herders and tries as best he can to hang on to the fragile thread of his life. The other plot line involves Nora, a strong, independent woman of the Arizona desert, trying to stay upright in a world that seems to be doing everything it can to destroy her and her family, especially the drought that is turning her farm and the surrounding community to ash and dust. Everything about their lives speaks of dissolution and decay, though Nora does everything she can to keep herself and her three boys afloat. Her husband has been gone for days, out negotiating for the water they so desperately need, and the situation has become dire. Thirst is the thematic core of these stories. Lurie gathers water everywhere he goes in a canteen previously owned by his adoptive brother, and it whets but never slakes his thirst to know what is coming and what has been. Nora is perpetually dry, sacrificing what little water she has to her children and, eventually, the dressing of wounds. But no description of plot or theme can scratch the surface of the beauty of this book, which is carried in the expansive prose Obreht employs. While The Tiger's Wife bore the signs of a first-time author, with its too-careful elucidation and somewhat stilted language, in Inland she has come into a mastery of her craft and never sets a foot wrong in climbing this particularly challenging terrain. This is not a perfect book (often motives are obscure and some of the action seems unlikely, even for the hallucinatory reality it lives in), but it is excellent. One must be willing to surrender, though, to the wonderful strangeness of the world evoked here, and this is not always easy. The reward is worth the effort and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the authors I listed in the first paragraph. While not as accomplished as either of those masters, Téa Obreht is clearly a talent to watch and read.


  • (01/14/20): Captain Kidd had experience traveling uncharted lands as he read his newspapers in different towns to spread the news of the world, but traveling with a ten-year-old girl who couldn't speak English was quite a different task for him. Johanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa Indians after her family was killed in a raid, but Johanna was now released and needed to be returned to her aunt and uncle. She didn't know who they were, and they didn't know her. NEWS OF THE WORLD flows beautifully as we follow Captain Kidd and Johanna on their 400-mile journey that Captain Kidd regretfully had accepted. He had to deal with no language communication except for a few words and sign language as well as Johanna's numerous attempts to escape. NEWS OF THE WORLD was an enjoyable read because the writing was marvelous, the story line was interesting, and the characters were authentic and likable. Johanna grew on you. Mrs. Gannet was charming. Captain Kidd was a perfect gentleman, a wonderful father, and an all-around good guy.? I enjoyed the historical aspect of how there were folks who went from town to town reading the news. I loved the descriptions of the undeveloped country and am happy I didn't live back then. It was difficult to imagine there were no paved roads. We readers even get to be in the middle of a gun fight. NEWS OF THE WORLD is filled with beautiful, descriptive writing that pulls you in I truly enjoyed NEWS OF THE WORLD mainly because of the characters and definitely the warmth and kindness of Captain Kidd. If you need a quick, enjoyable, heartwarming read, NEWS OF THE WORLD fits the bill along with a history lesson. 4/5 This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation from the publisher in return for an honest review.

  • Father of Lions
    One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo
    by Louise Callaghan

    (01/11/20): This book is much more than a book about a zookeeper and his animals. Callaghan writes of the occupation of Mosul by Daesh, the new laws invoked that make daily life very difficult for the citizens of Mosul, the threat of constant attacks, the fear of leaving their homes in order to escape the notice of the jihadis, Iraqi history and culture. As the fighting between the government forces and militants intensifies in Mosul, the animals in the zoo are starving. The lives of the Mosul residents are turned upside down as they now live with the constant fear of coming to the attention of the jihadis. Women who had worn western-style clothing now are required to wear the suffocating garb demanded by ISIS. A strict curfew was invoked. Food becomes scarce and very expensive. People live under the threat of constant attacks. The story centers on Abu Laith who was always a lover of animals. He risks his life to keep the animals alive while having to make difficult decisions in order to keep his family safe. He has a special attachment to the little lion Zombie. Callaghan introduces us to Dr. Amir who is an international rescue vet that becomes aware of the dire situation of the animals in Iraq, Callaghan performed extensive research to bring us the true story of Abu Laith and his bravery in protecting the animals of Mosul. She details the atrocities and cruelness of a country at war. But she also reveals the compassion and humaneness that can still be found among the ruins. While many thought Abu Laith should just kill the animals for meat, he refused. He truly loved and respected the animals and fought for their lives. It was a difficult read for me. I ached for the animals who were at the mercy of humans and were fortunate to have Abu Laith fight for them. I also ached for the humans whose lives would never be normal again, people at the mercy of power-hungry, crazy people who hid under the cover of religious fanatics. It was especially painful for me as I worked with the Iraqi military and felt the aftermath of the assassination of a couple of them. Men who only wanted peace and security for their children and grandchildren.


  • (01/10/20): American Dirt will be published January 21, 2020. It has already made my 2020 Best List as I was fortunate to be an early reader thanks to Amy Einhorn, and Flatiron Books. Have you ever experienced a horrible trip or had a bad experience visiting another country, one that made you promise to kiss American soil and be happy to be on solid American ground if you made it home? We take our freedom and homeland for granted. Imagine living in village in Mexico. You are a bookstore owner, you live your life for this and also for your eight year-old son and your journalist husband. Today you are hosting the Quinceañera of your niece. This celebration of the coming of age, the ritual of the transformation of a 15 year-old girl to woman, is stopped short, never to happen but forever to be imprinted in your mind. Instead this festive, proud day turns into a blood-bath of horror when gunmen come out of nowhere and sixteen of your relatives are killed, including the girl, your mother and husband. Only you and your son remain and you know you must flee before you are found. It takes you time to realize there are few places you can hide as this is more than a cartel lesson; it is revenge and nothing will stop the search until you and your child are dead. You must make it out of the country as the Los Jardineros will hunt you down. Many readers might have visited Acapulco for some rest and relaxation at one of its many resorts but probably none of you have thought what it would be like to walk from this southern Pacific Coastal town over 2500 miles to Mexico's border with the US. You will walk each mile with Lydia, Luca and those they meet on this harrowing journey. In 2001 I read Highwire Moon by Susan Straight. It has always been a book that haunted me, putting face and story to immigrants and undocumented persons in our country. American Dirt is another eye-opener of a novel with characters you will not soon forget. Haunting. I find myself looking for Lydia and Luca on our streets. Stephen King “defies anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it”. I was hooked in less than that. One final note. As a bookstore owner, Lydia mentions many of her favorite books. She refers to Love in the Time of Cholera by the late Gabriel García Márquez. Makes me yearn to read that book once again


  • (01/08/20): I know there is a story in this book, but you really have to have patience to find it. The storyline moves so slowly and didn't really get interesting until page 237. If the purpose of the book was to explain how exciting life could be in Australia, it failed. Still, one will cheer on the protagonist...every so slowly...


  • (01/10/20): American Dirt will be published January 21, 2020. It has already made my 2020 Best List as I was fortunate to be an early reader thanks to Amy Einhorn, and Flatiron Books. Have you ever experienced a horrible trip or had a bad experience visiting another country, one that made you promise to kiss American soil and be happy to be on solid American ground if you made it home? We take our freedom and homeland for granted. Imagine living in village in Mexico. You are a bookstore owner, you live your life for this and also for your eight year-old son and your journalist husband. Today you are hosting the Quinceañera of your niece. This celebration of the coming of age, the ritual of the transformation of a 15 year-old girl to woman, is stopped short, never to happen but forever to be imprinted in your mind. Instead this festive, proud day turns into a blood-bath of horror when gunmen come out of nowhere and sixteen of your relatives are killed, including the girl, your mother and husband. Only you and your son remain and you know you must flee before you are found. It takes you time to realize there are few places you can hide as this is more than a cartel lesson; it is revenge and nothing will stop the search until you and your child are dead. You must make it out of the country as the Los Jardineros will hunt you down. Many readers might have visited Acapulco for some rest and relaxation at one of its many resorts but probably none of you have thought what it would be like to walk from this southern Pacific Coastal town over 2500 miles to Mexico's border with the US. You will walk each mile with Lydia, Luca and those they meet on this harrowing journey. In 2001 I read Highwire Moon by Susan Straight. It has always been a book that haunted me, putting face and story to immigrants and undocumented persons in our country. American Dirt is another eye-opener of a novel with characters you will not soon forget. Haunting. I find myself looking for Lydia and Luca on our streets. Stephen King “defies anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it”. I was hooked in less than that. One final note. As a bookstore owner, Lydia mentions many of her favorite books. She refers to Love in the Time of Cholera by the late Gabriel García Márquez. Makes me yearn to read that book once again


  • (01/01/20): “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, the last book I read in 2019, is without a doubt one of the best books of 2019. The beautiful writing pulled me into the story and kept me entranced to the very end. I was fascinated with the story of the Kentucky Pack Horse library service which, in the 1930s, got books into remote and isolated areas of Kentucky. Rural Appalachia is known for its poverty, and reading of the struggles of the people was heartbreaking. These were proud people who had to fight each day just to survive. The coal mines often took the life of the men, and children died of starvation. Yet, with so little, they still anticipated the visit from the Book Woman as the books were often the only bright moments in their lives. Books gave them a glimmer of hope. As for the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, at first I thought perhaps this was just a bit of science fiction thrown into the story. So, of course, I had to look it up. I was really surprised then to find that there really were blue-skinned people in Kentucky (caused by an enzyme deficiency). It was very painful to read of the prejudice and cruel treatment they often encountered. The reader gets a glimpse into the life of the book women through blue-skinned Cussy Mary Carter who set out each week, with her stubborn mule Junia, on her route to deliver books to her patrons. I loved her! She was strong, determined, and compassionate. She loved books and, even more so, loved getting books into the hands of her patrons. She knew that books could be life changing. Some of her patrons were so appreciative of her service that they insisted on giving her the last morsel of food they had even though they were starving themselves. While there are many heartbreaking moments in the book, this is still a story of family and perseverance. The book was hard to put down as I was emotionally invested in Cussy Mary’s life. There are numerous “supporting” characters – her patrons, her father, the other book women – and all elicited some emotional response in me. I highly recommend this book. This is a book you won’t be able to forget. Warning: You may need tissues. Thank you to BookishFirst for the copy to review. Opinions expressed here are my own.


  • (12/28/19): If you are looking a book long description of the devastating hurricane of 1900 and its aftermath, this not the book for you. While an accurate and terrifying description of the storm does appear, it is brief and secondary to the love story. If you looking for a description of life on a hardscrabble Texas farm along with a family story, this is the book for you. The book is well written and well researched. Catherine is clearly portrayed as is Oscar. Catherine is a pianist with a problem. The man she loves is married and now everyone knows and condemns her. In a desperate effort to get a new start Catherine chooses to marry Oscar, a man she hasn’t seen in years, and start a new life in Galvaston, Texas in August of 1900.


  • (12/26/19): A two generation story of Cuban refugees centers on Elisa, 19, when her wealthy family is forced from Castro’s Cuba because of their support of Battista, and Marisol, Elisa’s granddaughter, who travels to Havana when the country reopens to tourists. Marisol carries her grandmother’s ashes with the directive to scatter the ashes in Elisa’s home country. Secrets abound as the story looks back to Elisa’s activities leading up to the family’s escape and in the present as Marisol befriends a politically active young Cuban. Strong characterizations and a healthy dose of history (not always favorable to America) make this a tale of revolution, passion for freedom, morality, friendship, politics and loyalty. Complicated love is a strong element that carries the story along for those not so interested in the history neatly interwoven in the tale of family pride and love of country. Book groups will have much to discuss. This would be a good book for teen daughters and their mothers to discuss.


  • (12/24/19): Unconventional story with themes of memory and dignity. The story leaves you reflecting on its emotional aftermath as well as memories of close friends and foes from past who left an impression and situations both finished and unfinished. The three main characters' contrasting personalities captured my attention. Their differences made them compelling and authentic. I found myself considering the possibilities of science/medicine with a new lens - undoubtedly thought provoking.


  • (12/17/19): If you liked The Handmaid's Tales, you will speed through Testaments. The chapters are short and pass the story back and forth between Aunt Lydia and the girls. Some of the description is more painful than Handmaid's Tales if you can imagine that. Atwood has such a remarkable capacity for forming a picture with words. In this case, many words, but I was up until 2 a.m. a few nights because I couldn't resist going to the next chapter.


  • (12/14/19): Laura Bell is a woman of strength and uncommon courage. She tells the story of her struggles to blend into the Wyoming landscape and the sheep she tends, and later the cattle she herds with her dogs, as a Zen novice being taught by nature and her own beginner's mind. . When she marries a kind man, a poetic cowboy, who carries the demons of grief and alcoholism over the death of his first wife, Laura shelters him, and his young daughters with a willing heart. She works at making a home and harmonious family life, but a nagging ache persists around when her husband will go over the edge with his next drink. It is as though, we, as the reader, are being taken on a spiritual journey of a woman in search of her own interior ground. This book is a moving, eloquently written memoir taking us back home to ourselves.


  • (12/11/19): Sepetys writes teens beautifully and accurately. Her teens are impetuous, naïve, full hearted, empathetic, selfish, quick thinking and foolhardy. THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE tells of teens caught up in the tyrannical world of General Francisco Franco in the aftermath of the Spanish Revolution of 1939. In 1957 as Spain was beginning to open up to the outside world, a family of American citizens, including their teenage son, entered Franco’s world. Daniel, a camera buff who wants to become a photojournalist, meets Ana, his family’s assigned maid. Ana’s family, formerly professors and Republicans, has been decimated by the Nationalists. Through Daniel and Ana, Sepetys tells of tyranny, torture, death and bull fighting, friendship, kindness and a people’s yearning for freedom. As good historical fiction does, she teaches us painlessly the truths of dictators and freedom fighters and the good people caught between them. Written for teens, this book will resonate with adults as well. It offers a multitude of topics for book group discussion. This is an altogether worthy read. 5 of 5 stars


  • (10/30/19): Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for the ARC of this novel. I enjoyed this a lot. It paints a nuanced picture of the aftermath of a racially based set of tragedies, modeled on the killing of a black teenage girl by a Korean business owner in the early 90s. I remember the coverage of that crime, and much of this book brought back vivid and visceral memories for me. I recommend this book.


  • (10/27/19): There are a few cases when I would like to give a book 6 stars, but this is one of them. Having lived in Germany ten years after WWII, the book brought back memories of things I was told by people who lived there during the war. I think the author connected with the sadness of those memories. The people who survived, those that were lost, and the daily hardships. The characters were well rounded. The fantasy aspects with the addition of a golem (Ava) added a different aspect to the war story, but it made the story work when you ask. "What is life?" I have found a new favorite author.


  • (01/08/20): I know there is a story in this book, but you really have to have patience to find it. The storyline moves so slowly and didn't really get interesting until page 237. If the purpose of the book was to explain how exciting life could be in Australia, it failed. Still, one will cheer on the protagonist...every so slowly...

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