The Best Recent Reader Reviews posted at Bookbrowse

The Best Recent Reader Reviews

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  • (12/13/17): Using the epistolary technique, this story is told through letters and diary entries. It worked well although I did have to frequently jump to the end of the letter to see who the letter was from. The time line also was a bit confusing at times – letters written between 1863 – 1865 jumping back and forth – then forward to 1892 interspersed with diary entries from 1864. But it really did not distract from the story. As their husbands went off to war, wives were left behind to tend to the crops and livestock. But Union troops (and men dressed as troops) took food and livestock from them, not caring how the families were to survive. Slaves were leaving as the opportunity presented itself. Newly-wed Placidia barely knew her husband when he left her to tend their huge farm and his young son from his previous marriage. This was not a marriage of convenience as they seemed to truly love each other. But two years later when Major Hockaday returns home, he finds that Placidia has been arrested for killing her newborn child, a child that definitely was not his. Can he forgive his love for whatever happened while he was away? And what did happen? Can she be honest with him? Can their love survive? Placidia had to make many critical decisions on her own. Was she an irresponsible teenager? Or wise beyond her years? Did the Major return a cold, heartless man after the horrors of the war, or did his love for his wife cool the anger and shock? Toward the end of the book I was totally engrossed wanting to know how life would treat these brave characters who had to do whatever it took to survive.


  • (12/05/17): “Adults like to put a name on everything you feel, as if a name can neutralise it. They’re wrong, though. Some things settle under your skin and don’t ever go away, no matter what you call them” The Perfect Girl, also titled much more evocatively, Butterfly in the Dark, is the second novel by British author, Gilly Macmillan. At fourteen years of age, Zoe Guerin, a precociously talented Devon girl, had a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of her. Then she was found guilty of causing an accident that took three teenagers’ lives. At seventeen, now called Zoe Maisey, she has served her sentence in a Secure Unit, and her mother Maria has tried to give them both what Zoe recognises as a Second Chance at Life. But her attempt to restart her career in Bristol is dramatically aborted due to an incident that vividly brings back that tragic event and its aftermath. And mere hours later, Maria Maisey is dead. Macmillan employs three main narrators (Zoe, her aunt Tessa and her solicitor, Sam) to tell the story, adding another two in later chapters. The bulk of the story covers a period of less than twenty-four hours, but there are flashbacks that detail earlier occurrences. Zoe’s memories of her trial, her interactions with her keyworker at the Secure Unit, and a film script written by her step-brother, Lucas, serve to fill in some of the back story and establish Zoe’s state of mind. Both Sam’s and Tessa’s more mature perspectives establish the nature of the main characters and their interactions. Macmillan’s portrayal of a brilliant teenager and the effects of the accident on her life, and the lives of those close to her, is convincing. Her descriptive prose is evocative: ‘Lucas … just moved quietly around the different parts of the house and when he settled down anywhere, it reminded me of a dark shadow cast over a patch of white sand”. While the cover’s enticer “Nobody knows the truth but her” is quite misleading, this is a gripping tale. All the characters have secrets and several could have motives for murder. Macmillan skilfully builds her story, gradually feeding in clues and red herrings to produce a page-turner that will keep the reader guessing until the truth is revealed. Recommended!

  • Uncommon Type
    Some Stories
    by Tom Hanks

    (12/03/17): Uncommon Type: Some Stories is the first print book by American actor, filmmaker and author, Tom Hanks. This is a collection of seventeen quite diverse stories. They vary not only in subject matter, but also format. Many are straight narrative, but there’s also a screen play and a series of newspaper columns from the Tri-Cities Daily News/Herald entitled Our Town Today with Hank Fiset. Hank muses on modern news consumption and production compared with that of fifty years ago; he shares his opinion of New York City; he reminisces on significant moments in his life as punctuated by a typewriter bell; he describes a return to analog by a typewriting evangelista. Typewriters feature heavily: there’s a typewriter on the cover; there’s an image of a different model of typewriter at the beginning of each chapter; sometimes, a typewriter is an integral part of the story, sometimes it has a minor role, and sometimes it just gets an incidental mention. Many of the characters are appealing and a particular quartet who reappear twice after their initial tale might be well suited to have their own novel (in fact, one of their stories was published in a separate volume in 2014). The stories are an ideal length for dipping into, but also interesting and different enough to read without pause. Topics are many and mixed: refugees in the present day (or near future) and from a half a century ago; travel by car and plane as well as time travel, space travel and travel down memory lane; ten pin bowling; surfing; motel accommodation; moving house; the public relations junket; making it on the stage; the heavy toll of wartime service. Hanks gives the reader laughter and romance, loyal friends, wise words and plots that aren’t entirely predictable. It’s easy to imagine Hanks himself as the narrator in many of these tales: his voice is really there, even in the print version. This is an outstanding debut, and if Hanks ever tires of Hollywood, he can certainly direct his energies to the keyboard (whether a typewriter or electronic), as more tales of this ilk would definitely be welcome. Very enjoyable.

  • Idaho
    A Novel
    by Emily Ruskovich

    (11/15/17): This book is not what you may think it is. It sounds so dark from the description, one of those edge-of-your-seat-are-things-really-what-they seem page turners. But what it really is, is a book about grace, how a complicated life, filled with unimaginable sadness, still has those moments of grace, of connection. This is a beautifully written book, it quietly builds tension and then just as quietly releases you from it, but never completely. Happiness is never quite attained, sadness is always lurking at the edges, and yet there is a satisfaction there, equal parts resignation and unexpected joy.


  • (11/02/17): It's rare that a book grabs you from the first sentence; and yet, that is exactly what happened. The people, the environment, the fear, the hate, the anger, the struggles...all of this made for a book that a person could not wait to keep reading. And then the ending...did NOT see that coming. I love this book and encourage anyone who loves a good tale to pick this one up.


  • (11/01/17): Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk is the second novel by American author, Kathleen Rooney. It’s New Year’s Eve, 1984 and Lillian Boxfish, ex-wife, mother, grandmother, just a shade older than the century itself, takes a walk from her home on Murray Hill to Grimaldis where she’s going to have her traditional NYE dinner. Walking the footpaths of her city sets her thinking: about her city and about her life. She takes a detour for a drink, and at Grimaldis, things don’t quite go as planned, and Lillian walks on. As Lillian considers her life, she heads for landmarks meaningful to her: restaurants, a hospital, the Hudson River, places she’s lived and her place of work for fifteen years. It was at R.H.Macy’s that Lillian Boxfish became the highest-paid advertising woman in America. As Lillian walks, she thinks back on her life: her divorce, her marriage, the birth of her son, her honeymoon cruise, and another, less happy one, to Italy. She remembers parties, work, men, her best friend, homes, her boss, work colleagues, books she wrote and editors. A hospital stay and a certain TV appearance are among the less-favoured memories. Despite the cautions and concerns of her son, she walks through the streets of New York on this last night of 1984, and she encounters its denizens: a limo driver at a loose end, a barman, a restaurant maître d’, a security guard, a kindly dinner host, an angry homosexual, a terrified expectant mother, a helpful and courteous shop assistant and some disaffected black youths. She dines, drinks, shops, parties, gives away money and writes a bill of sale. Rooney’s story is based on an actual person, but is quite definitely fiction. She paints a marvellous picture of New York over a span of sixty years, and this is a tale that would appeal to readers familiar with New York City, but more especially, to residents of the Big Apple. The Boston Globe calls it “A witty and heartfelt ode to a city” and this is a most apt description. A moving and entertaining read.


  • (10/28/17): This is a short book, only 179 pages, and it is Kent Haruf's last book before he passed away and, of course, it takes place in Holt, Colorado. I think this is the best of his books,, although they are all good! It is a story about two senior people who have been "sort of friend" for many years. She knew his wife, but they were not close friends. Both his wife and her husband have passed away. This is a story that will make you happy and sad! It is undoubtedly one of the best stories I have ever read! It is a story about two people who "find" each other; there is happiness and sadness! Read it you will like it!!!!! It is the perfect story!!


  • (10/11/17): I love Jesmyn Ward, so I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work as soon as I saw it! She writes in a way that sucks you into the world of the characters, and manages to evoke pity even for the most unlikeable people by giving us a way to connect with their human experience. You will think about these people and their lives and how so many are set up to fail from the very beginning. This one will definitely punch you in the gut but it's worth it. I won't even try to describe what happens because I'm too afraid to accidentally provide spoilers. Highly recommend!


  • (11/02/17): It's rare that a book grabs you from the first sentence; and yet, that is exactly what happened. The people, the environment, the fear, the hate, the anger, the struggles...all of this made for a book that a person could not wait to keep reading. And then the ending...did NOT see that coming. I love this book and encourage anyone who loves a good tale to pick this one up.


  • (10/22/17): I really liked this book. It was an engaging book about a family with addiction, mental illness and personal problems. The main character Wavy was a a true survivor of her family life.


  • (10/02/17): Although long (perhaps a bit too long), this tale of brothers holds your attention. When an Italian nun, woefully unprepared for a mission in Africa, turns up at a medical mission in Ethiopia, she is welcomed because of her skill with patients and her ability to serve as nurse to a highly skilled but disconnected surgeon. After she gives birth unexpectedly to twin boys, the story switches to the boys, raised at the mission, and the “family” at the mission that raises them to adulthood. World War II and the civil war that later divides Ethiopia into political factions serve as the background for this fascinating tale of medicine, natives, doctors, politicians and family. Secrets and intrigue abound and are satisfyingly brought to a conclusion as the two boys search for their birth father and fulfilling lives in the midst of great love and great upheaval. 5 of 5 stars


  • (10/22/17): I really liked this book. It was an engaging book about a family with addiction, mental illness and personal problems. The main character Wavy was a a true survivor of her family life.


  • (09/21/17): A very unusual book! An interesting treatment of a problem a woman and her family has to deal with from her birth and through her entire life. Even though it is the cause of her way of life, it's handled reasonably without great and gory detail. The characters are alive and real, and although there are some "raw" scenes, it's part of Miss Jane's life, and well-presented. Even though it's not for everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, enough to get a couple of Watson's other stories as well.

  • Being Mortal
    Medicine and What Matters in the End
    by Atul Gawande

    (09/18/17): This book adds greatly to the conversation of aging, death, and quality of life issues. It goes further than most by flipping the discussion on its head by not defining a "good death" but rather the a "good life". One should always strive to define for themselves what they want to do-- not allowing the medical establishment to try to prolong life as long as it can. Autonomy, dignity, and personal choice can only be decided by the individual. Sometimes families lovingly get in the way of the dying. My only criticism is that Dr Gawande's sharing of many anecdotal stories became somewhat redundant. His account of his fathers' death, however, was very moving! The book needed tighter editing in my opinion. Overall, I highly recommend. His list of source material is extensive and provides further investigation for those interested.


  • (09/15/17): What looked like an ordinary novel of 2 castaways on a deserted island in French Polynesia turned out to be anything but. Barry Bleecker, a frustrated artist and former Wall Street financier has left NYC to follow the path of Gauguin and derive inspiration. Sophie Ducel, newly married, is flying with her new husband to visit the land of Jacques Brel for her honeymoon. However, their prop plane crashes way off course with no flight plan filed and thus begins the most amazing adventure. Part of the story is told from above as if a reporter was elucidating their life ; the other part is direct conversation between the participants. But oh the prose, oh the lessons learned of struggle, cooperation and love elevate this from a simple story to something divine. Poignant and thoughtful it elucidates the real meaning of home.


  • (09/13/17): Having lived in West Texas, studied Texas history and taught literature set in this country, I found the book a joy to read. Those who are familiar with the film "The Searchers" know about Indians capturing white settlers' children and bringing them up as their own. My book club members knew little about the history of this time or the setting, so we had a lively discussion. I strongly recommend a book with a good plot set in an accurately portrayed setting.

  • Being Mortal
    Medicine and What Matters in the End
    by Atul Gawande

    (09/18/17): This book adds greatly to the conversation of aging, death, and quality of life issues. It goes further than most by flipping the discussion on its head by not defining a "good death" but rather the a "good life". One should always strive to define for themselves what they want to do-- not allowing the medical establishment to try to prolong life as long as it can. Autonomy, dignity, and personal choice can only be decided by the individual. Sometimes families lovingly get in the way of the dying. My only criticism is that Dr Gawande's sharing of many anecdotal stories became somewhat redundant. His account of his fathers' death, however, was very moving! The book needed tighter editing in my opinion. Overall, I highly recommend. His list of source material is extensive and provides further investigation for those interested.


  • (09/11/17): “Some might wonder that the two men should consider themselves to be old friends having only known each other for four years; but the tenure of friendships has never been governed by the passage of time. These two would have felt like old friends had they met just hours before. To some degree, this was because they were kindred spirits – finding ample evidence of common ground and cause for laughter in the midst of effortless conversation; but it was also almost certainly a matter of upbringing. Raised in grand homes in cosmopolitan cities, educated in the liberal arts, graced with idle hors, and exposed to the finest things, though the Count and the American had been born ten years and four thousand miles apart, they had more in common with each other than they had with the majority of their countrymen.” A Gentleman in Moscow is the second novel by American author, Amor Towles. At the age of thirty-two, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov finds himself under house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. It’s 1922, and the Bolsheviks are in charge; as an aristocrat, Count Rostov becomes a Former Person. Rostov has been occupying a suite on the third floor; now he leaves behind for “The People” all that he cannot fit into a tiny attic room three floors up. A good friend states, much later “Who would have imagined, when you were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia.” Towles drops his readers into Rostov’s life every few years, bringing them up to date on significant events and people. If his detention is meant to be a punishment, Rostov is determined to make the best of it, and does so, despite some shaky times and one suicidal moment. Already well respected before his confinement, within a few years Count Rostov’s role goes significantly beyond that of an involuntary guest held in great affection. For loved and respected he indeed is, by guests and all bar one member of the Metropol’s staff. This is not an action-packed page-turner, although there is a good dose of intrigue, some romance, plenty of humour and a rather exciting climax. This is a novel that meanders along at a gentle pace. Towles is a skilful storyteller: even seemingly unimportant details woven into the narrative prove their significance if the reader is patient. As well as exploring the philosophies of friendship and of politics, his setting facilitates a suitably nasty and vindictive petty bureaucrat, and a very fine example of communist equality policy at its silliest. This is a novel with love and loyalty, compassion and quite a lot of wisdom, all wrapped is beautiful prose: “For if a room that exists under the governance, authority, and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine”. David Nicholls describes Towles’s first novel as “terrific”; his fans might think this one is too. Simply wonderful!


  • (09/06/17): Read this if you like male protagonists who have literally nothing to complain about but complain anyway. Rich is miserable because he makes bad choices, generally originating from between his legs instead of his ears. In trying to prove himself he proves nothing. Klam is funny and he creates a world that is so self-involved and self-reverential and ridiculous that it is believable and recognizable. The characters are well-written and yet I felt zero empathy for Rich. I like to read books where characters are struggling with who they are. I enjoy existential crisis. So even if I didn't like Rich, I did like the book.

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