March 15, 2017

#MyBookReview A Gentleman in Moscow–5 Stars

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By the author of Rules of Civility comes A Gentleman in Moscow. Once again Amor Towles (@AmorTowles) writes with wit and skill to produce a book very much worth reading. If you loved Rules of Civility, you’ll gobble up A Gentleman in Moscow.

.For the past four years before the book commences, he is staying in the Hotel Metropol. At the outset of the book, he is on trial for scheming (writing a poem) against the Bolsheviks. At the trial, he uses humor and his good nature to get a lifetime sentence of house arrest at the hotel where he currently resides. His life is spared, but if he leaves the hotel, he’ll be shot.

From there the book commences to travel from 1922 to the 1950’s. We watch and participate in the Count’s amazing adjustment to house arrest. He is not allowed to leave the hotel. Inside the hotel, things change as the world changes outside. But, the Count’s world remains pretty stable in comparison. The author contrasts the count’s life with those not under house arrest. They live much more dangerously. The Count’s friends from the outside visit him and he learns of their perils.

So much happens to the Count in his desire not to let boredom destroy his life. At one point he is on the brink of giving up, about to take his life, but he’s stopped. That was the only point in the book where he let despair nearly win. His optimism and good sense of humor are refreshing. The Count’s life changes as he develops very strong personal ties with the staff of the Metropol.

How interesting to read from the point of view of a true Russian. Towles writes as if he was in the mind of Rostov. The skill of getting into the character’s head is amazing. Rostov in his elegance and good manners strikes the reader as someone we’d all love to meet. He is rarely ruffled. There are times when it’s hard not to feel sad for this man, who was a young man of the world–well travelled– before being arrested. But, the character’s good nature is even contagious to the reader.

I love the video that Towles has on his website. It depicts the flavor of the book better than I can! Take a peek and then get this book. You won’t regret it.

My Favorite Books of 2016

Readers love to learn what other readers enjoy. Recommendations about books are the best ways to find new reading material. I not only spend a good bit of my time writing, but I also spend time reading. I read both fiction and nonfiction.

I suspect a number of you have read Ann Cleeves. I found her this year and have devoured three of her books with a fourth waiting to be read. She’s written a new series which begins with Raven Black. Each are different, but all are set in the same remote Shetland area and star a police officer named Jimmy Perez. The setting for these books contributes to their enjoyment. If you enjoy a good mystery in an enchanting setting and with an interesting supporting cast, give this series a try.419l3hdE0ZL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

51t7d9byeal-_sx331_bo1204203200_The second well-known author I discovered this year was Jodi Picoult. I read Leaving Time. That book will surprise and captivate you. I’m not one for paranormal but Picoult handled that aspect of the story very well. After reading Leaving Time, I’m ready to venture into more of Jodi Picoult’s fictional worlds.

Another fun read for me this year was Joanne Harris, Five Quarters of the Orange. This was a World War II story but with a different twist. There’s history as well as a mysterious past. The book flashes from the present to the past in a skillful way. If you like this time period and enjoy understanding the conflicts people face during wartime, you’ll enjoy this book.51z3mpqa7ml-_sy346_

As for my nonfiction reading this year, I enjoyed several books. The first was Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting. That was all about finding a lost Caravaggio. I learned a lot about the life of that artist as well as his unique technique.51bapwxilkl-_sy346_51owhq4gjxl

Also, in nonfiction, I enjoyed Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. This was an account by a neurosurgeon of his work and the progress made in the study of the brain. It was a fascinating read.

Finally, I’d like to suggest a few of my fellow writers, MJ LaBeff has a great story in Mind Games. It’s the story of a young woman whose mind begins to play tricks on her. There are secrets and lots more in this fun read. The other fellow writer whose series I discovered this year was Heather Haven. She wrote Murder is a Family Business debuting her funeral home characters. The Alvarez family are a quirky group of interesting characters that will make you laugh as you try and solve the mysteries.

Share the titles and authors with us. We’d love to know!

Maybe this was one of your favorite reads in 2016? Check out the book trailer.

#MyReview of Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

It’s the story of a young girl, Jenna, whose mother has disappeared. She hasn’t seen her mother for ten years. At the age of 13, she decides to do all she can to find her mom. She’s already searched the web for her mom, but she chooses to get more active by hiring a psychic and a private detective.

Meantime, the readers learn that Jenna’s mom is an animal behaviorist specializing in elephants. While in her POV, the reader learns lots about elephants and their behavior.

But, if you want to learn both how elephants respond to mothering, to grieving, to living as a heard as well as follow the suspense of Jenna’s search, you should read this book.

As for the writing, it was beautifully done. The author alternated by chapter POV between Jenna, her mom, the psychic and the private detective. Each of these POV’s gave the reader a deeper view of the events. Here are some examples of beautiful writing.

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“Engaging with haters is like rearranging pictures on the titanic. What’s the point?”

“Dreaming is the closest the average human gets to the paranormal plane; it’s the time when the mind lets down its guard and the walls get thin enough for there to be glimpses to the other side.”

“The light that wakes over that girl’s face looks like the kind of thing you see in paintings in cathedrals, the sort of art that breaks your heart even as you stare at it.”

“…find myself at the bus station in Nashville Tennessee, stepping into a wave of heat that hits me like a knockout punch.”

“A bruise is how the body remembers it’s been wronged.”

 

This is a definite must read!

My #Review of a Book Full of Twists–4 Stars

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It doesn’t describe the story and instead misleads the reader. Otherwise the book was a fun read. I enjoyed the characters. Many reviewers didn’t like the main character because she was so unreliable. But, unreliable characters are becoming the thing. I realized right away that she was not trustworthy because her choices seemed way off. But, later as things became clearer, her reliability increased.

It’s hard not to give too much away in this book. First, it’s a mystery. Something terrible happens in the beginning which sets off the chain of events. There is not a dead body in the room. That means it’s not a typical mystery. Nonetheless, the reader is constantly wondering what is going on. The police are on a chase for the perpetrator and their frustrations become the reader’s.

Second, I found myself rooting for Ray, the main policeman. But, when he nearly strayed, he became less likable. Integrity is something I like in the main law enforcement characters, whether it’s a policeman or a detective. I didn’t feel as if Ray had much integrity.

The author shifts from first person with the protagonist and antagonist to the third person with the police. That shift helped me know who was talking. But, I wondered about writing the entire book in the third person. Personally, it was creepy being in the mind of the antagonist.

There’s a lot of suspense in this book. [Tweet “If I hadn’t spent lots of money getting manicures, I’d have bitten my nails to the quick” @claremackint0sh] As it was, I nibbled on my cheek and kept turning pages. The reader isn’t terribly surprised by the bad guy, but what keeps us in suspense is what will happen to the protagonist. I can’t tell more without spoiling the suspense.

My only complaint and the only reason I would give this book 4 instead of 5 stars is that the ending seemed strange. Was the author trying to keep the suspense going or creating a backdrop for a future book. Either way, it didn’t work.

And if you do read it, share your views here with me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Wanna read another book full of twists with an unreliable narrator? Try this one.

My Review– Longbourn by Jo Baker 4 Stars

It takes you back through the story of the Bennett sisters from behind the scenes. Instead of fretting over whether or not Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will become engaged, you’ll fret over the trials and tribulations of the maid servant, Sarah. When the girls go to a ball, the below-the-stairs staff are all in a flutter, getting just the perfect shoe roses and lace. It’s a different and fully engaging world.

Perhaps Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, was mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, but if she was, I don’t remember. Surely the maid servants were never called by name, and I don’t remember a butler or a footman. Baker clearly did a lot of research to learn how a typical household of Longbourn size would operate. How many staff it would take to keep it going. She never took us out of the time period. Never having had to experience laundry day in fiction or real-life, I was aching with Sarah as she scrubbed out stains. The chilblains and open soars on her hands bled with real intensity. Readers felt the drudgery of it all while the upstairs staff glittered.

The story of Pride and Prejudice happens without us being privy to it. As you read Longbourn, you’ll become less concerned about the goings-on upstairs. The downstairs characters take on a life that keeps you reading and worrying about them. Certain ettiquete keep the two worlds separate even when they have collided in the past. For me, I kept hoping the Lizzy I admired in Pride and Prejudice would

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notice Sarah’s distress. But she was completely lost in her world. The servants remained invisible until they were needed. Baker did a good job of keeping everyone in character and not stepping past those boundaries.

My only complaint with the book was the point-of-view changes. The author bounced from one one point-of-view to another and sometimes gave the impression of omnipresence. This troubled me, but I kept reading because the story and the character were so well written. Perhaps Baker chose this point-of-view to match that of Austen?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love this book. I suggest reading Pride and Prejudice first to fully enjoy both worlds. But, Longbourn can be read separately. Definitely worth all four stars and is a must read!

 

Still Life with Bread Crumbs–Review of Anna Quindlen’s book

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It was a very pleasant read. Anna Quindlen created a believable female character of a certain age. The book is about Rebecca Winter, a semi-famous photographer from New York City who has fallen on hard times. Her parents are both in financial ruin and she must pay for their care in the final years. That plus her expensive Manhattan life left her with few resources to fall back on.

She moved from the city to a small community upstate where she hoped to hang out until she hit on the next big photographic success. Renting a cabin in the woods, she was ill-prepared for solo country living. She met the colorful people in this small town and although rather reclusive, she got to know each as did the reader. At first quite ambivalent about living in this remote place and wanting desperately to return to the city, she balked at becoming too attached. With time, she succumbed to the charms of the people and the place.

At first I feared it might be depressing, but it is not. In fact, it’s uplifting. The main character made good choices and allowed herself to open up to the new world she found herself in. This is a nice literary read without much plot. Nonetheless, it captured my attention because the writing was clear, crisp and the characters complex.

There is a dog in the story and at one point the author put the reader in the dog’s point of view. For the most part the reader is in the main character’s point of view. I enjoyed the short trip in the dog’s mind and did not find that off-putting.

I give this book 4.5 stars and include it on my list of Must Reads. I will also check out ofter books by this author.

If you liked this review, read my other reviews on my blog or share your thoughts.

4 Stars for My Brilliant Friend

That makes it a young adult book. The writing is choppy, perhaps as a young person thinks, perhaps due to the translation. The story full of emotion about things adults do not consider life and death. When families fight, when husbands or older brothers beat up their wives or sisters, when bad guys threaten to kill small store owners, our protagonist seems unperturbed. But, when her best friend doesn’t answer her letters or when her boyfriend ignores her, she’s frantic with worry.

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Click to order on Amazon

Now, you may wonder why I’d give such a book four stars. Here are the reasons. First, the world author Elena Ferrante created is real. Children brought up in Neapolitan Italy would behave exactly as portrayed. Second, the writing is very sensitive and the characters well developed. Although the writing is simple–dumbed down for teens, perhaps– it has its moments of beauty.

The story is about a young girl growing up in the armpit of Naples Italy. The Camorra (mafioso) control the small businesses which include, small grocers, cobblers, flower sellers. This girl and her relationship with an interesting character, Lila, who is brilliant, but repressed are at the heart at the story. We are back in time, the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The question I kept asking is what would happen to these two characters as I got to know them. My compassion for them mounted with each turn of the page.

My one complaint is the book is a bit redundant. We are told the same thing in many different ways. Some of the redundancy began to trouble me as I got deeper into the story.

Nonetheless, My Brilliant Friend  is worth reading. If you want to get into the mind of a thirteen to fifteen year old, I recommend this book. It is the first in a series and I plan to keep reading more.

If you want to read another book full of emotions, try The Clock Strikes Midnight. Here’s a sneak peek.

My #BookReview Raven Black by Ann Cleeves 5 Stars

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I did that when I read the first book in the Shetland Island Quartet by Ann Cleeves. The story is well-done in many ways. It is told from several points of view with a chapter break delineating each. We get in the minds of many of the people around the Shetland Island. Cleeves doesn’t spend lots of time in each point of view, but enough for us to get a feel for the story and the people.

She introduces us to her protagonist detective, Jimmy Perez from the eyes of another character. What a cool thing to do! Later we get in his mind, and we become attached to the rumpled, self-conscious but highly empathetic detective. This is a story about a brutal murder of a young woman. As the story unfolds we learn of this murder’s links to a previous murder of a child. I don’t like it when children get murdered or threatened, but Cleeves does a nice job of protecting us. She doesn’t bring us too close to the previous murder victim. We learn more about the current victim. And, although I hated that she was killed, she wasn’t as vulnerable as a child.

Another thing that I appreciated was the description of the place. I’ve never been to the Shetland Islands in Scotland nor did I know much about the people.

You will understand the closed-knit relationship of the Islanders.

Furthermore I appreciated the beautiful writing. Here’s an example:

Sally felt if she reached out her hand she’d be able to touch the hole where once Catherine had been. It would feel hard and shiny like ice.

I actually solved the crimes, but that didn’t stop me from reading. My one complaint is that one resolution was a bit too contrived–perhaps to try and surprise the reader. She didn’t need to worry about surprises. The book was good enough without that.

If you’re looking for a new series (and I wish there were more than 4 because I’m about to finish the second one), pick up Raven Black.

PS. Just finished White Nights and I think it was EVEN BETTER than Raven Black. Much more plausible and the descriptions of the white nights in Shetland were amazing. I’m a new fan!

For a very different kind of mystery, try e-Murderer. Here’s the book trailer.

Historical Writing that Feels like a Detective Mystery–The Lost Painting–My Review

 If you are an art lover who also loves Italian art, this book will entertain you. I qualify in both respects.

Taking of Christ

Taking of Christ

Harr put the reader in the role of a detective. We explored the documents along with his two young art historians, Francesca and Laura. I felt as if I was there beside them in the Mattei archive at Rencanati plowing through the old letters and ledgers. I sneezed from the dust and shivered from the cold. That’s how intimate the writing was.

We also learned how hard it is to restore a piece of work painted in the early 17th Century. Four hundred years of dirt, grime, and much more had to be carefully removed. The professional hands of Benedetti delicately guided us through this process. Even after he, a compulsively careful restorer, made a near-fatal error, the painting survived.

That’s the question that both the reader and those who discovered it pondered. Many of Caravaggio’s disciples copied his work. They did it on commission and their skill level was almost as good as the master’s. So, how to determine if this one was a genuine Caravaggio?

Read the book to find out.

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Take a look at this book trailer for the e-MURDERER. Suspenseful?

#BookReview The Boy in the Suitcase–Stunningly Suspenseful

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When I started reading The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis I worried about the child. Did I really want to read a book where a child had been stuffed in a suitcase? But with over 1500 reviews and still with 4 stars, I decided to give it a go. And, I wasn’t disappointed.

. By the cold mysteries, I mean those set in the cold countries, like Sweden, Norway, Iceland and such. This story was set in Copenhagen.

The main character Nina Borg is dedicated to helping people. She has trouble being a good mom, but she is a great nurse. Her dedication to others is clear. It is this reason that her friend, Karin, contacts her for help. Karin knows that if someone can protract the boy in the suitcase, Nina can and will. Nina, however, has no idea what she will find when she opens the locker in the station and finds a small suitcase. Shocked but ready to rescue the child who is still alive, she takes action. The story gets more complicated when Nina’s friend Karin is brutally murdered. Nina can’t go home. She can’t go to friends. She has three-year-old boy on her hands with no where to turn. Her desperation is clear and the tension rises as the story moves forward.

The authors moves from the point-of-view of Nina to that of the boy’s mother. The desperation Nina feels is nothing compared to the mother who lost her child. Rather than sit back and let the authorities take charge, she takes matters into her own hands and begins to piece the story together. It’s through her point of view that things start to become clear. The author also put us in the points of view of those responsible for the child’s abduction. The chapters are short, quick but full. The pages turn faster and faster as the reader wonders how everything will work out. Soon the motives unfold as the villain moves in for the kill.

I’m thrilled that this is the first in the Nina Borg series and I will order the second one right away. My only negative to this book is that the ending dragged a bit. My sense is the authors wanted to set up the second book. Even though the ending needed not go on for several pages, it was satisfying.