Book Reviews

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Reader Review: "The Great Alone"

 

by Lynn M. Castro (Menifee, California): Kristin Hannah is a brilliant story teller. If life can be hard, life is harder in Alaska. Leni, the main character moves here from Washington with her mother and her father, a POW who is suffering from PTSD, and trying to escape the inner turmoil he feels and lead a more peaceful existence. It becomes anything but peaceful, setting off unprepared for the challenges ahead. So many tragedies throughout. I loved Big Marge. The women are hardworking and strong. There are some horrific parts to get through. Hanna doesn't want us to tread lightly through this book, but to experience the challenges and injustices that Leni, the main character, goes through, although no child should ever have to go through them. The ending is a bit bitter sweet, yet Leni can still find beauty and peace through it all. A rainbow lies ahead. There is so much more to say - Read the story.

Reader Review: "The Song of Achilles"

 

by Salama: One of the best books I've read in a while. The song of Achilles pulls you in and you kinda just keep flipping the pages, that before you know it, you're at the end and feeling so sad because you wanted it to go on forever. Madeline miller is truly an amazing author

Reader Review: "Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine"

 

by Brenda M. (Reston): "These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don't want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted."

"If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night …"

At first, Eleanor Oliphant seemed to be similar to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion in that the story focused on a socially awkward person seeking love. However, it was so much more than that and very definitely worth the read. This novel focused on the themes of loneliness, particularly in the younger generation, social awkwardness, acceptance from others and of oneself, healing, and taking healthy risks. Prior to the start of the novel, Eleanor Oliphant had a horrific childhood and difficult adolescence. She was still dealing with those implications and fallout when the novel began.

This story is dark, funny, and ultimately endearing. Eleanor is a complex, deep, and well-crafted character. The traumatic events that happened to her, how she internalized them, and people's reactions to her were dark and difficult to read. However, Eleanor is a plucky character and her actions, opinions, and how she faced the world made me laugh out loud numerous times throughout the story. I can't imagine finishing this book and not loving Eleanor. She is a very unusual protagonist!

I wish this novel had been a book club read for me, as there is so much fodder for discussion here. I particularly liked how multi-layered the title of this novel was. There are so many ways to interpret it in light of the story. I loved Eleanor's observations about life, particularly about what it takes to socially fit-in and how that is so different between men and women. The way Eleanor gradually opens up to other people and life itself was also fascinating. I highly recommend this book and was very glad I read it.

Reader Review: "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness"

 

by peter carr (england): If you think you don't have enough work in your life, read this book. It feels like trying to sort out your attic. Obscure prose, hordes of dusty bits and pieces you have to wade through to get to the questionable moral in the far corner of the unlit room. Jumbles of unmemorable names, "clever " jumps back and forward in time, and a cast of grotesques that add nothing to the story. There's an old chest in one corner, stuffed with forced references to trans rights that feels as though it is crowbarred in to appeal to "modern" thinkers. only in the last quarter of the book does it start to feel like literature, and by then you will have lost the will to live.

Reader Review: "The Book Thief"

 

by Cathy: The book thief is a poignant and powerful tale a young girl named Liesel growing up in Nazi Germany. This is the kind of book which demands quite a few re-readings and I have discovered a number of microscopic details after each read. Highly recommendable for literature and history buffs alike, this is a timeless tale which is masterfully told. This masterfully crafted novel is sure to make the readers come back for more.

Reader Review: "The Night Tiger"

 

by Jennifer Shaw (Irving, TX): Gorgeous, descriptive writing. The characters are multi dimensional. I loved how the author mixed characters that were dealing with modern day problems while dealing with old superstitions and folklore, characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and the restrictions of the time from different gender perspectives. There are book to read for pleasure and books to read for discussion. This is one of those rare books that works for both.

Reader Review: "Saving Hamlet"

 

by Jacob Allen (Australia): Molly Booth has written an excellent debut novel. Saving Hamlet is a timeless classic that alternates between themes of romance, theatre and time travel effortlessly. After reading the first page I immediately thought 'This is a GOOD book' something I don't usually think, particularly about books by little known authors. Saving Hamlet however, is clearly an exception. I would highly recommend you read this, and that you read it now.

Reader Review: "The Five People You Meet In Heaven"

 

by Niamh (South West of England): This book was given to me as a gift at a time in my life in which I despised reading...And it was so good that here I am writing a review just to encourage others to pick it up! I have convinced so many of my friends, colleagues and family to read this novel; it provided guidance for me at a very difficult time and has transformed the way I look at the world. A beautiful story..worth reading all the way until the end and my goodness if you haven't already, pick up "The Next Person You Meet in Heaven" (the new sequel...It will blow your mind!) As well. Meeting Mitch Albom is now number one on my bucket list. This book is a blessing.

Reader Review: "The Crossing Places"

 

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Crossing Places is the first book in the Ruth Galloway series by award-winning British author, Elly Griffiths. Norfolk DCI Harry Nelson has been haunted by the unsolved case of little Lucy Downey's disappearance for ten years. When some human bones are discovered at the salt marshes near Kings Lynn, Harry calls on archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway to give an opinion on the bones. Ruth's cottage is quite close, and she is interested in anything to do with the marshes. The bones, and the accompanying Iron Age artefacts, turn out to be a noteworthy find for archaeology, but no resolution for the Downey family.

Nelson is impressed by Ruth's professionalism, and he makes an impression on her too: "He was an odd man, she thought, brusque and unfriendly, but it seemed as if he had really cared about that little girl." It's this caring, perhaps, that sees her ready to help.

Then another little girl goes missing, and Nelson asks for Ruth's input on the letters he has been regularly receiving, letters telling him in the vaguest terms where Lucy, and now young Scarlet, are. The letters are filled with a mixture of strange references: biblical, Norse legend, literary, Greek legend, pagan and archaeological, and successively take an increasingly exasperated, at times almost taunting, tone at Nelson's failure to find the missing girls.

This specialised knowledge means that, if the letters are actually from the killer, suspicion falls on certain people who were in the area ten years earlier: Ruth was on a dig with colleagues and volunteers, excavating a beach henge; a group of Druids were part of a protest against it. Could one of these seemingly gentle, nature-loving souls be a murderer? A grisly find on her doorstep then has Ruth wondering if she's being warned off.

Griffiths tells the story using Ruth and Harry as her main narrators, with occasional passages from the perspective of a captive girl. The plot is believable, the archaeology interesting and the characters are quite convincing for all their flaws and quirks. It is certainly refreshing to read a female protagonist who is not slim and gorgeous. There are twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing right up to the final chapters, and little surprise that will ensure readers are eager for the second instalment, The Janus Stone. An outstanding debut novel.

Reader Review: "The Last Year of the War"

 

by Sandi W. (Illinois): This being my first read of a Susan Meissner book I have no past references for comparison. However, with that said, I found this book to be very enjoyable. I enjoyed the way she moved her characters back in time to tell their story. I was pleasantly surprised to see she used a town very familiar to me to base the life of one character's childhood. Everything she spoke about still exists and two spots, in particular, have recently been in the news. For me, that brought an extra layer to the novel.

My only problem with the story was I felt that the ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked to have seen a few of the things that were bundled up for closure given a bit more time and detail.

Two elderly women, both with life-threatening illnesses, are brought back together for a final goodbye. After watching them grow up during WWI, both assigned to a detention camp by the United States and then sent back to their families homeland, they lost touch with each other. While following America born Elise, we see her return from a war-torn Germany and settle back into her life in America. Mariko, on the other hand, lived her life in Japan, until her later years of life, when she finally returned to America.

The story of not only war, of America's sad history of putting its own people into detention camps, but of the love and resilience of two young girls, as they navigated their lives as well as they could.

Reader Review: "Room"

 

by Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews: What hold could Old Nick have over Ma that would make that room her world? Why didn't she just leave? Or maybe she wasn't able to leave?

Jack's fifth birthday definitely wouldn't be what a normal five-year-old would be delighted with, but Jack was happy to spend the day with his Ma in their ordinary, same-as-always routine. They spent every day in the "room" with the food and clothing that Old Nick provided for them.

Ma doesn't allow Old Nick to see Jack but she never tells Jack why. Ma and Jack's days are creatively spent inventing things, measuring everything in the room that has been Ma's space for the past seven years, reading books and changing the characters to suit them, and watching the clock so they know when it is time to eat or sleep. They never leave their "room," and Jack really doesn't know any better or know anything about the outside world except what his Ma tells him when they read books.

As much as Ma tries to protect and shelter Jack, he begins to question what is beyond the walls they live in. Ma tries to divert Jack's attention to other things, but sometimes it is unavoidable......especially the night when Jack overheard a conversation between Ma and Old Nick about him and the life Old Nick provides for her.

One comment made by Old Nick that stuck in my mind was: "I don't think you appreciate how good you've got it here," "Do you?" Page 69 To me that would be highly questionable....how good could life be simply living in a room and never going outside?

I grew to hate Old Nick and how he treated both of them. When you find out the "whole" story, you won't want to stop reading.

This book is about fear, abuse, control, a mother's love, and wanting the best for your child. At first you may want to put the book down, but don't do it....you will share Ma's feelings of fear for Old Nick and her dependence on him and also the heartbreak of Jack's acceptance of the only life he has known. You will fall in love with sweet, innocent, literal Jack, and you will think about both characters and their experience long after you turn the last page.

To me this was actually a "creative" thriller...excellent storyline. I really liked the book. 5/5

Reader Review: "The Last Year of the War"

 

by Kate Rock (North Carolina): Susan Meissner writes a brilliantly vivid piece of important and little known history. It combines friendship, love, family during a devastating times and the questions of identity and the important story of immigrant parents that is perfectly placed in that it will be relatable to so many of us no matter what era we were born. Beautiful, poignant and heartwarming. "All the feels!" Highly recommended read.

Reader Review: "After She's Gone"

 

by escapetothebookshelf: This was a mysterious and intriguing Swedish mystery that truly kept me gripped. It is the second book in a series but I read this without having read the first (The Ice Beneath Her) and it was completely fine as a stand alone read - although I have now ordered the first one too!

The story is told from the perspective of Malin, a police officer; Jake, a little boy who finds himself involved in the case; and later Hanne, a detective on the case who is suffering from dementia. The choice of perspectives worked really well to tell the story - you often found something out from one perspective that the other didn't yet know and so you eagerly wanted to find out what happened next.

There was so much mystery throughout the story, about various aspects of the plot. Although the story unfolded at a fairly slow pace, new evidence or events consistently arose that kept you guessing and wanting to know more. The ending of the book was brilliant - I did not suspect it at all. Even if you manage to guess who committed the crimes, I don't think you would be able to guess why - the why left me with chills. Although the story came to an end, I want to know how various character relationships progress and develop after the events in this book; I will definitely be buying the next in the series.

Grebe also dealt with some difficult themes, such as xenophobia, sexuality, alcoholism and dementia, really well in the crime context. It made the novel fairly original and enabled you to connect in different ways with various characters in the book which is normally difficult in a crime novel - Jake was one of my favourites.

One slight criticism I would have is that there were a few minor characters whom I struggled to remember and differentiate between. Grebe did try to subtly remind the reader who was who when their names popped up, but as they were typical Swedish names it was harder for an English reader to remember them. But, isn't that half the fun when you read a novel based in another country and originally written in another language! On that note, the translation was also very good - a couple of words stuck and didn't quite fit - but that's to be expected!

Overall I'd give this 5/5 - I haven't read anything like this before! It was mysterious and chilling but also thought provoking.

Reader Review: "Over the Edge of the World"

 

by Gary A Gault (Lincoln City): One of the best documented early expeditions in world discovery about Magellan's difficult and almost impossible voyage to circumnavigate the globe. Bergreen is an engaging author who mined many historic sources to give the reader an accurate view as possible about this difficult and trying voyage. Magellan had not only no maps to use, but also suffered from the political intrigues of his expedition captains. It is a look at the 15th Century whose people were not much different than those of our own time. This should be required reading for all historians and students of this period of European history.

Reader Review: "Dopesick"

 

by Evans (Rochester,NY): Dopesick should be read by every parent, educator, student and citizen. If you or you know someone within this opioid epidemic cycle, this book explains why. Why is you loved one addicted? Why can't he or she stop on their own? Why can't they get the rehab he or she needs? Who is truly responsible. This book answers all those questions and more. As a parent and teacher who also has friends and neighbors, no book has made me learn as much as this one on a topic we tend to want to avoid. Buy this book and read it, to make sense of this opioid epidemic.

Reader Review: "Becoming"

 

by Sandi W. (Illinois): I was very pleased with this book. I felt that Michelle (who made you feel like you were her friend) did a wonderful job of telling her truth. She told of her aspirations, along with her fears. She did not hesitate to spell out her doubts and concerns. By the end of the book you had the feeling of the dynamics of both her marriage and her family life, along with her childhood, education and employment past. Reading this book only furthered my admiration for Michelle.

One of the places that she mentioned in her book I have frequented. She said that she and the girls would sneak away while at Camp David and go to Liberty Mountain to ski. My daughter had a lake house directly across from Liberty Mountain and their ski slopes. Besides being at the resort, my daughter had a glass walled room that looked out over the lake and ski slopes. It was fun to sit there with a cup of coffee or drink in front of the fire and watch people come down the slopes - both day and night, since they lighted the ski slopes. Obviously, you could not distinguish one skiing person from another, and the Obama's were never at the resort when I was, but it gave me that little extra connection while reading the book.

I think the sentence that most vividly stood out to me in the whole books was in the Epilogue. The very last paragraph started with ~

"I'm an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey."

What a beautiful way to sum up her memoir.

Reader Review: "Uncommon Type"

 

by Rene M (North Carolina): It had been a long time since I read anyone's collection of short stories. I didn't have any expectations of this book, nor did I read any reviews prior, other than the ones printed on the book jacket. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed all the stories (well, except maybe the bowling one). Some stories took me back in time, forward to the future, and remained in the present. I laughed, pondered, and was touched differently by each of them. I found it amazing how a single object, the typewriter, inspired Mr. Hanks to create such interesting tales. Well done.

Reader Review: "Moloka'i"

 

by JHSiess (Lodi, California): Molokai is simply a beautiful story in which Alan Brennert features unforgettable characters. Brennert's love of Hawaii and meticulous research are fully on display throughout the rich tale of Rachel who, at the age of 7, is diagnosed with leprosy and torn from her family and happy life in Honolulu. Exiled to a leper colony on Molokai, Rachel is raised by the Catholic nuns who run the girls' home there. Rachel develops deep friendships with the other girls, as well as with, in particular, Sister Catherine. Rachel longs for her family back on Oahu and the prospect of returning to a normal life there, but as the years pass, and the disease remains active, thereby prohibiting her release, she draws upon the strength of those around her and the beautiful island of Molokai, as well as her Hawaiian heritage. Eventually, Rachel finds love and has a beautiful daughter with whom she is only allowed to spend a few hours before the child is cruelly taken from her lest she or her husband infect the child.

Rachel's story spans nearly 7 decades and is told with great compassion. Brennert educates readers on the beliefs and culture of the Hawaiian people, the sadly true history of Kalaupapa, the leper colony that is today a national park on Molokai, and the suffering of real Hawaiians who, like the fictional Rachel, were ripped from their homes and families when they displayed symptoms of the disease. But Brennert's focus is on his characters' strengths and resilience, not their suffering.

The result is a deeply moving story that will resonate with and haunt readers long after they finish reading the book. For readers who have never been to Hawaii or experienced its beauty, spirituality, and traditions, Molokai will permit them to understand the true meaning of "aloha" and precisely why Hawaii is commonly referred to simply as "paradise." Molokai gets my highest recommendation.

Reader Review: "Becoming"

 

by Pam Aylmer (Lacey): She is candid and talks about her struggles to protect her girls from papparazi, and surprisingly, to buffer them from the intrusive Secret Service. I'd never considered how it would feel to have SS men shadowing me everywhere--she was inventive and designed a few 'work-arounds'.

She manages to get them out of their black suits, shoes and ties to change into shorts, tees and tennies, and to swap out their black earpieces for white headsets, so the girls and their friends would feel more comfortable. I deeply admire her healthy agenda for children and believe that she's had a tremendous impact on our culture and awareness. I only wish that she liked politics more--perhaps she can use her significant influence in other constructive ways.

 

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