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Reader Review: "The Great Alone"

by Susie J (Indiana): I so looked forward to this new book by Kristin Hannah because her previous title was so rewarding and satisfying. Unfortunately, this one is far from that - at least for me. The repetition in this book is unbelievable - how could an editor have allowed this to pass? In addition, many of the events in the book are simply too far-fetched to actually occur under the circumstances. Too much happens in too short a time or space. There are brief segments where the prose literally sings, and once I arrived at that point I took a deep breath and hoped I had passed the worst - only to be disappointed again and again. The publishing house fell far short on this one, I feel. Either that or I am asking myself who really wrote Kristin Hannah's great World War II novel of a short time ago.



Reader Review: "Only Child"

by Carole: Only Child is amazing! Once I started reading it I was unable to put it down. The writing flows and the characters are well-developed .It is intense, heartbreaking and uplifting. While it starts with a school shooting, that is not what it is about. There is so much more to this story. If you read one new book this year, make it this one. And really I rate it a 10.



Reader Review: "The Women in the Castle"

by Nancy: 'Commander of wives and children" is the title given to Marianne when she makes a promise to her husband and other German conspirators that plan to assassinate Hitler. When their plot fails, the men are executed. Committed to her promise, Marianne finds two other resistance wives, Benita and Ania, and brings them and their children to live in her decaying family castle.

This is not just another WWII story as the perspective is of three very different German women with very different experiences of loss, guilt, survival and recovery before, during and decades after the war.



Reader Review: "The Walking Dead"

by Dick Minim (Essex): Gerald Seymour sure knows how to cook up a tale but this gooey confection may be over-egged for even the hungriest of his fans, your reviewer included. A suicide bomber arrives in England from Saudi Arabia and the central plot involves the efforts to track him down before he causes carnage, a theme given more urgency by last year's shocking attack in Manchester. Mixed in with this are ingredients including the trial of two old-school cockney villains, complete with the most stupid (and unbelievable) juror ever and the incident-packed last days of an intelligence officer's career. Not Seymour at his best but a tasty treat all the same.



Reader Review: "Ginny Moon"

by Ellen F: I wasn't prepared to like this book or the main character. I thought it was going to be a very different type of book. The author brings the reader into Ginny's world as the story develops. I could empathize with all of the characters in her life and begin to understand how Ginny has invented ways to cope with the life she has been dealt. I found myself rooting for her dysfunctional mother despite what had gone before because the deep ties of family were apparent. I ended up loving the book and came away wiser having read Ginny's story.



Reader Review: "The Immortalists"

by Becky H (Chicago): THE IMMORTALISTS follows four children throughout their lives. The children visit a woman who tells them their death date. That knowledge compels each of the young people to follow a different pathway through life. A gay boy who is uncertain of his sexuality and self-worth, a girl who may be suffering from a mental illness and infatuated by magic, a girl who is intellectually brilliant but socially inept and a boy who is the family's "golden child" intent on doing everything perfectly make up this group of siblings.

Each one's story is told in succession with little interaction between the siblings until each one's death. Each story is compelling on its own. The characters are well developed. Each life story has a clear beginning, middle and end. The place and time each sibling's story covers is detailed and distinct.

An intriguing, well written, and aware novel delineating the difference between belief and science, reality and fantasy. The choices each sibling makes will resonate long after you finish reading.



Reader Review: "Ginny Moon"

by M. Kassapa (Minneapolis): Ginny Moon, fourteen years old with autism, is trying to make sense of her world and with her as the narrator we are on a wild adventure following in her footsteps, watching how her mind works in navigating the zigzag path of her life. From the very first moment of this roller coaster of confusion and her desire to be reunited with her birth mother we want her to succeed. Once you understand the parameters of the journey Ginny is on, there is no way you can put this book down until reaching its culmination. Though at times you feel her fear and desperation, you hang in there with her. She holds our attention, our empathy and compassion as we cheer her through the obstacles that confound reaching her goal. And maybe she's not the only one who doesn't understand what's going on.



Reader Review: "The Sellout"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Sellout is the fourth novel by award-winning American author, Paul Beatty. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2016. Our narrator is the son of a psychologist by the name of Mee (who has dropped the second "e"). Until his untimely and unfortunate death at the hands of the Los Angeles Police, his father was known as the Nigger Whisper for his ability to talk down coloured folk attempting suicide, a role that has been thrust upon the narrator by default.

Since his father's death, he manages their farm in a suburban area of LA once known as the City of Dickens. A talented farmer, he grows, among other cash crops, square watermelons and pot, and his uniquely delicious produce is very popular locally. In the prologue, we find him summoned to appear before the Supreme Court of USA on charges of racial segregation and slavery.

Although our narrator's name is never mentioned, he is referred to by one character as The Sellout, and bears the nickname Bonbon from his performance in a school spelling bee. Beatty gives the reader a cast of quirky characters that includes a former child-actor, the Assistant Principal of the Chaff Middle School, a female bus driver and a has-been TV personality who rewrites classic texts into blackly correct books. A former city is re-established via Freeway signs and a three-inch-wide white painted border. Meetings of the Dum Dum Donuts Intellectuals are the forum for black ideas and our protagonist employs a sort of reverse psychology that ends up in a resegregation push. He also provides novel take on blackface entertainment.

One World have produced editions of Beatty's four novel with themed covers and this one has a lawn jockey with a gas lamp on the cover, the significance of which becomes clear in the text. This satire has been described as brilliant, outrageous, demented, hilarious and profound, all succinct and accurate descriptors. Very entertaining.



Reader Review: "Slumberland"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "The Schwa ruffled the pages of the book over his pant seam, and the resulting sound rivaled that of the best Max Roach brushwork. I nearly fainted. He lifted the book to his mouth and played chapter seven like a diatonic harmonica; blowing and drawing on the pages like leaves of grass in the hands of Pan. Who knew a Signet paperback was in the key of D? For the more percussive sounds he rapped the spine on his elbow, thumb drummed page corners, pizzicatoed the preface, flutter tongued the denouement and bariolaged the blurbs."

Slumberland is the third novel by Man Booker Prize-winning American author, Paul Beatty. Ferguson W. Sowell, aka DJ Darky has a talent for DJing, and says "I compensate for a lack of skills and Negritude with a surfeit of good taste and a record collection that I like to think is to DJing what the Louvre is to painting." He has spent months trying to compose his perfect beat, and it's almost there: in the parlance, it is "presque parfait".

The Beard Scratchers, members of his record pool, agree. After much analysis, they hit upon the missing element: it needs to be ratified by their ultimate beat break, the elusive Charles Stone, aka the Schwa. Coincidentally (or perhaps not quite?), Ferguson comes across a porn tape sound-tracked with music certain to be the Schwa's. The trail leads to East Germany and, with some help from the Beard Scratchers, Ferguson finds himself engaged as a Jukebox-Sommelier at the Slumberland Bar in Berlin.

It is a Berlin about to tear down its Wall, and Ferguson is somewhat surprised to find that others share his love of the Schwa's music: he is assisted in his quest by a bartender, a journalist, a Stasi agent, a pair of German negro sisters, and, eventually, the clientele of the Slumberland. Through a number of quirky characters and some crazy, laugh-out-loud events, Beatty examines the experience of the negro in Germany.

One World have produced editions of Beatty's four novel with themed covers and this one has LP discs on the cover. A knowledge and appreciation of jazz is bound to enhance the enjoyment of this story, but is not essential, because the plot and characters are strong enough to draw the reader in. The musical descriptions certainly make the reader wish to hear the Schwa's music. There's plenty of wit and black humour in Beatty's lyrical prose. Original, incisive and funny.



Reader Review: "A Piece of the World"

by Suzy L (Westport Ct.): Andrew Wyeth spent his summers in Cushing, Maine with his family. It is here where he first met Christina Olson who later becomes the inspiration for his painting "Christina's World". Christina lived a tough life along with her brother Al on the neighboring farm. Their dilapidated home lacked modern day conveniences and had fallen into disrepair. Andrew encounters the Olsons through their neighbor Betsy and he decides to express their lives via a painting. As Andrew puts paint to canvas, the details of the Olson's hardships come to light.

The story unfolds with Christina's as a young girl. A childhood illness left her with difficulty walking and no cure for her bone disease. As she grew older, the effects worsened leaving her crippled making her farm chores difficult. A bright student, the opportunity to further her studies to become a teacher were dismissed early by her parents. Her future only left her with two choices, to marry or maintain the farm. Sadly, she had very few opportunities to make romantic connections leaving her with no escape. Christina is not the most likable character, but by reading the book you become sympathetic to her disposition. Andrew Wyeth developed a relationship with her over many years and was able to capture a different side of her in this painting.

Andrew Wyeth painted the portrait, but the author writes a beautiful story by bringing it to life. Intertwined in the story is how she met Wyeth, who through his masterpiece, shows the world her softer side of someone having suffered so much both internally and externally. The author showcases a very moving and impactful novel.



Reader Review: "The Second Mrs. Hockaday"

by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): 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.



Reader Review: "The Perfect Girl"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "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!



Reader Review: "Uncommon Type"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): 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.



Reader Review: "Idaho"

by Lorri (Ridgewood, NJ): 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.



Reader Review: "If the Creek Don't Rise"

by Tired Bookreader (Florida): 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.



Reader Review: "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): 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.


 

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