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Reader Review: "The Great Alone"

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 06:00
by B. Stalzer: Reading this novel I felt I was watching a story unfold page by page, character by character. It showed the beauty and allure of Alaska along with the reality of life in Alaska which was as difficult as it was wonderful. The people in town became their own family as much from necessity as from needing to connect with others who sought out the adventure of living "off the grid" in one of the most beautifully natural areas still considered a frontier. The people knowing that each has come for their own reasons, are careful in not overstepping their boundaries allowing everyone to find their own way but knowing no one can survive if they aren't able to take help when it's needed. Although the story centers on Leni and her first best friend, Matthew, there are so many intertwined stories throughout that enrich the reading and enjoyment of this book. Hannah has made all the pieces of this story work together to make it richer and true to life in a town so far removed from the rest of us. I cared about these people and came to understand them and know them. They became more than just characters in a book because Hannah's character development was so well done. From the beginning to the end, this novel kept my interest. Even as I was anxious to know what the final chapter would reveal, I was aware that I would miss the people, their town, and life in Alaska. I also listened to the audio of this book and it was one of the best books on audio I've heard.

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Reader Review: "Warlight"

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 06:00
by Davida Chazan: "It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and both grow more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn't know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel."

Ondaatje is my favorite author, so a new novel by him is always something I'm on the lookout for. What makes Ondaatje my favorite isn't always the stories he tells, but how he tells them. In fact, sometimes Ondaatje can be confusing in his story telling, but even when things don't make perfect sense, his prose is always so exquisite that it doesn't matter. Goodreads also said about this book "In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire." Yeah… 'luminous' is a very good word for what Ondaatje gives us, and he does succeed in giving it to us every time.

Rather than continue to be effusive about how Ondaatje writes (and you know I could go on endlessly), I think I should concentrate on the story, which is told mostly from the narrator's point of view, that being Nathaniel. I should note that in this book, Ondaatje moves between first and third person, where you get the feeling that Nathaniel is also narrating the third person sections, while at the same time, taking an omnipresent viewpoint. I know that doesn't sound like it makes any sense, but if you think of it as the 'imagination' part noted above from the Goodreads blurb, I think you'll understand what I mean here. My thinking is that Ondaatje needed the first-person parts to draw the reader in, and make them sympathetic to Nathaniel, but that viewpoint doesn't allow for the wider picture of things that happened beyond Nathaniel's own experiences; to include those events, he allows Nathaniel to imagine them from a distance, in both time and through piecing together clues he finds.

What this does is give us a very layered story, wherein Ondaatje starts with Nathaniel as a young teenager, and builds on this time in a mostly chronological order. Ondaatje then moves to Nathaniel as a young man, and this is where he introduces the third person/imagination sections of the story. These passages help Nathaniel fill in the blanks of his own life, but more importantly, he also learns more about his mother's life, and what really happened to her when she disappeared from his life. All the other characters seem to dance on the sidelines of Nathaniel's life, until their presence is necessary to add something to the story, and only then they can take center stage for a time. I found this fascinating in how it seemed to say that although you might sometimes feel that certain people have no significant impact on your life, in fact, there are no real minor characters, you just don't always understand their importance at the time. However, I don't think that was the main point of this book, although for me it was a substantial part. If I had to pinpoint what I think Ondaatje is saying here, I'd say that we must look at the title of the book and attempt to understand its significance. For those who read this book the word "warlight" only appears near the end of the novel when Ondaatje talks about how the British helped barges find their way on the Thames when they transported munitions during the war. What this says to me is that this story is more about Nathanial finding his way, than who or what was helping or hindering him along his path. If that means it is a "coming of age" story, then so be it, and I can't think of one more beautifully written than this. On the other hand, there was one phrase that Ondaatje used which I think may be even more significant in understanding what this book is about, and that's the one I used as the title of this review – the consequences of peace. That simple combination of words is so powerful and evocative for me, that I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a very long time, if only because it is an impeccable example of how amazing a writer Ondaatje proves to be, time and again.

That only leaves the question if this book has overtaken "The English Patient" and "The Cat's Table" as my favorite of Ondaatje's works, and I must be honest and say no – those two are still my favorites. However, if until now I ranked "Anil's Ghost" as just below those two, I believe that this book has edged that novel out, but only by a just a whisper.

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Reader Review: "The Twelve-Mile Straight"

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 06:00
by Anl (Park city ut): When I read the premise on the first few pages, I was underwowed. As I read on, I changed my mind as the author wove this through the plot in a believable and clever way. The characters were limited and well defined, so as to make the book a pleasant read. As heavy as most of it is, there is enough upbeat and hope that I fell good at the end. It is also easy to read. Stays out of injected opinions about social issues or politics which seems so present in many books today. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a slightly heavier than normal read with a different premise and plot twists.

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Reader Review: "Salt Houses"

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 06:00
by Becky H (Chicago): The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, "the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away." His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or…

And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves? Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.

You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family's migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.

Lots for book groups to discuss here.

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Reader Review: "The Twelve-Mile Straight"

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 06:00
by JOHN WILLIAMSON (Saint Louis, MO): Warning: Many readers may find this book too dark, sad and brutal - unfortunately it is probably a very accurate of life at the time (1930's) and place (Georgia). As difficult as it was to read I was also compelled to finish the book to learn the fate of the "Gemini Twins". The author's third person narrative may be frustrating for some readers, but I enjoyed learning the main characters' thoughts and motivations. Although the chapters bounce back and forth through time, I felt the author did an excellent job of helping the reader transition from one time to another.

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Reader Review: "The Last Ballad"

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 06:00
by Sandi W. (Illinois): Written in the true-to-life battle of workers rights, Wiley Cash does what he is so good at.

It is 1929 in Appleton County North Carolina and Ella Mae Wiggins struggles to make ends meet. Ella works in the American Mill #2 - designated mill #2 because they employee African Americans in that mill. Ella is Caucasian, and not only works with but lives in the part of town that African Americans live in. Hers is the only white family there. Likewise, she is paid less money because she works alongside African Americans. She cannot make ends met. When offered a ride to a union rally, Ella accepts. Little did she know how involved she would become as a union leader.

The story is told years later by her daughter, reveling the bitter and tragic life of her Mother. This novel outlines the early struggles of the labor movement in the Appalachian south. It was based on a true story.

This is Cash's third novel. He continues to amaze. Like the author John Hart, you impatiently wait for the next book published and cannot get it in your hands quickly enough.

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Reader Review: "The Radium Girls"

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 06:00
by Sandi W. (Illinois): Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from the early 1900's in both New Jersey and Illinois, the transcripts and family histories, pictures and quotations, the number of documents alone had to have numbered into the thousands. Extremely well put together factual story that reads like a novel from the victims point of view. Kudos to Ms Moore.

Radium was not always known to be the deadly chemical that it is today. Many, many young women understood it to be very safe and even a wonder drug to be ingested freely. Until the young women who worked with it on a daily basis, with factories in both New Jersey and Illinois, started to become ill. Within months they lost all their teeth, their jaw bones crumbled, they started showing signs of bone cancer, losing limbs, even losing their lives. Their employer, the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), who suggested they "lip" the paint brushes they used in their job, insisted that the radium was not the cause of any of their workers ailments. It took the death of many young women and 38 years for the USRC to lawfully be deemed liable and forced to pay out benefits to any of the young women.

In the early 40's USRC factories were raised. The rubble was taken to land fills. It takes radium 1500 years to disintegrate past the point of being lethal, which means everywhere that the rubble from those buildings were spread, in both Orange, New Jersey and Ottawa Illinois and their surrounding areas, is still contaminated. Buried in the earth, under houses, close to water supplies, just waiting for the possibility to infect its next victims. In 1979 the EPA ordered the successor of USRC to start an environmental clean up in both areas. As of 2015 the radium clean up is still in process.

On the good side, this long deadly battle that our courageous fore-sisters fought brought to law the culpability of an employer being responsible for on the job safety and the beginning of the Industrial Occupational Hazards law.

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Reader Review: "American by Day"

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 06:00
by lani: A piercing commentary on America seen through Norwegian eyes makes this novel one of the best of the year. I found myself relishing this book, rolling each word over my tongue, tasting it, digesting it and oh so appreciating it. Take one smart ass sheriff and mix it with an erudite logical police officer (Sigrid)from Norway and you have the basis for a story that cannot fail to delight and one that you may want to read over and over. When Sigrid's brother, Marcus who is living in the US, disappears, Sigrid travels to the USA to try and find him and see what is wrong. All of the police force believe that Marcus is responsible for the death of a black female college professor with whom he was having a relationship. However, Sigrid refuses to believe this and uses her scholarly investigative capacities to try and convince the sheriff that there could be other alternatives. I suppose this could be labeled a mystery but it was such a wonderfully drawn and unconventional novel that discusses race relations(at a level I found enamoring), religion, individualism that it is so much more. If you are looking for a novel to make you think, race to get this. I bet you will not be disappointed.

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Reader Review: "Gone Girl"

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 06:00
by CC: Lots of twists and turns and I'm still taking it in after finishing it. The ending didn't bother me at all, in fact I don't think it's an ending, but perhaps a beginning for another part of their life, if the author chooses to pursue it. If not, you can hardly speculate what's going to happen with a child in their lives, but kind of intriguing to think about.

Amy was incredibly brilliant as the villianess, I had to admire her craftiness and cunning, even though she was the ultimate she-devil. The author did a great job with weaving the dynamics of this intertwined relationship . It's a powerful codependent hate/love story to the conniving max. I found myself living vicariously in her antics. Wishing I had known her years ago when I went through a bad relationship, I'm sure she could of gave me some tips. But she's way too extreme in a crazy, psycho, manipulating, cunningly supreme, way. Even her husband had to stand in awe of her abilities and recognize her 'talent' in the most of his most lowest points. She was his crash course in absurdity and the many moods of marital obsession and I think he got it. He became a learned student. Let the games begin ... he's ready.

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Reader Review: "That Kind of Mother"

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 06:00
by Lorri A Steinbacher (Ridgewood, NJ): I went into this thinking that it would be an "issues" book, but it is far more than that. It is really a character study of a particular woman, a particular mother over time. That this particular mother adopted a child of another race was important and would certainly generate discussion in a book group, but what fascinated me was Rebecca herself, her feelings, her motivations. I won't say that I liked her, because I didn't, not always, but Alam made me want to know what she was thinking. Recommended for readers who like literary fiction with compelling female characters and who don't mind if the "action" is interior growth. Good for book groups.

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Reader Review: "Paint Your Wife"

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "When you are drawing you are actually learning how to see. You do this through looking. Looking is untarnished glass. No green bits of judgement hanging from the lens. In order to draw you must to learn to see how things are – not how you wish they were, or once were"

Paint Your Wife is the 10th fiction book by New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones. It starts with the mayor of New Egypt, Harry Bryant returning from a visit to his son in London. It is the late 1990s, and Harry's town, on the North Island of New Zealand, has fallen on hard times. The paint factory has closed up; ideas for tourist attractions fail to gain funding; long-time locals are beginning to abandon the town for more prosperous places. In a last ditch attempt to attract attention, Harry gets Alma Martin to reproduce his old portraits of the town wives in a public space: it generates some outside interest, but also acts as a sort of catalyst for the locals, as does the arrival at Harry's place of business (Pre-Loved Furnishings and Curios),of a young couple with twins, looking for accommodation.

Alma Martin lives in the old Fire Warden's cottage on the hill near Harry's mother's farm. He has tried his rather talented hand at quite a few things: colour technique at NE Paints; teaching; wartime rat catching; and, in lieu of payment for said rodent extermination, sketching and painting the wives of the town.

His most constant model was his neighbour, Alice Hands, but all the women, once they got the hang of sitting ("It is hard to know what to do with yourself the first time you sit. You are suddenly aware of your arms and legs, too aware, and as soon as that awareness slips into place it's as if those limbs were never really an integral part of you at all, but clumsy add-ons") were happy to do so: "As far as the rest of the women in the district were concerned, to be looked at or observed as rare as sugar or chocolate. They could have looked in the mirror, of course. But there is nothing like another's eyes to set us alight, to make our nerves stand on end, to tell us, in effect, who we are"

They learned to be silent because: "When a sitter begins to talk the pose loses all its binding; arms and legs fall away, the mouth widens, the tongue waggles, a sense of form withers" and enjoyed his attention ("You know something, Alma, when you are drawing I feel like you're touching me") and even his talks on art and artists ("It was the war years and everything was in short supply – including stimulation. Like plankton eaters they sat with their mouths and minds wide open").

Jones gives the reader a cast of charming and often quirky characters; the vignettes that fill in their backstories are captivating; there is plenty of humour and a fair share of wisdom; the feel of the town is well-rendered; the descriptive prose is a joy to read, making it difficult to choose just a few quotes to illustrate this. "In quick time the surrounding farmland revealed itself, straw-coloured, the black flecks of telegraph poles; and on the far edge of everything stood the ranges, in shadow at this time of day, but their jaws dropped open in the February heat" and "Some strain told on the window panes - a tension where the floor went one way and the windows another; it was an arrangement that made the ordinary blue sky sing in the way glass achieves in chapels and courtrooms" and "He tells her that it's like trying to nail a fast-moving cloud to the one spot in the sky. Hopeless if the sky is moving about too" are good examples.

Alma's advice on drawing is also superbly expressive: "Light and shadow, he liked to say, are in constant negotiation as to which parts of the world the other can have" and "…seeing is not the same as looking. And in learning how to draw what you really learn is how to see. Once you learn how to see, good or bad or better doesn't come into it" are just two illustrations of this.

This offering by Jones is a delightful read, moving and uplifting, and loaded with gorgeous prose. This book was originally published in 2004, two years before the prize-winning Mister Pip, but this new edition by Text Publishing has wonderfully evocative cover art by W.H.Chong. Highly recommended.

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Reader Review: "Salt Houses"

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 06:00
by Linda Locker (Pickerington, OH): Salt Houses is a difficult story and the author did not shy away from difficult situations and family conflicts. It is the story of displacement and yearning for something called "home." The book covers almost fifty years in the life of a Palestinian family, spanning the years 1963 to 2014. The family tree included in the front of the book was very helpful. Each section is told from the perspective of a different family member. I thought the voice of the girls and women were particularly strong and very candid. The story did move slowly and I was expecting a greater building to a climax. But, the characters rang true and the author gave hope in the end. The story of this family, unfortunately, has been lived by many, many refugees. This diaspora continues to impact the stability of the world today. Salt Houses gives a very personal insight into the real lives of displaced persons and encourages empathy and understanding. I would recommend this book for those who have a real interest in the Middle East and the challenges of it's displaced people.

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Reader Review: "One Child"

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 06:00
by janis Rezek (U.S. A. state West Virginia): This account of China's one child policy shows the far reaching unintended or latent consequences of this social policy. On the surface we think of the intended consequences of a social policy being put into place. Now looking retrospectively we can see the consequences are multidimensional. They are cultural, economic and political. The part that brought the most surprise to me was the impact on aging parents and who would care for them. I intend to use this book in one of my sociology courses to demonstrate the impacts a social policy can make and how we need to use a holistic approach when policies are being made. This a a very good read for anyone interested in the cultural aspect of economics and politics.

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Reader Review: "The Midnight Watch"

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Midnight Watch is the first novel by Australian teacher and author, David Dyer. While the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912 will be familiar to most people, the part played in the drama by the master and crew of the SS Californian is probably less well-known. While it is argued about, many accept that the Californian was the ship closest to Titanic when she sank; was, in fact, within sight of Titanic, and did not react when Titanic fired off eight distress rockets at five-minute intervals, except to signal with the Morse lamp. Nor did they try to contact the Titanic via wireless.

Dyer tells the story of what probably happened on the Californian that night, what the master and the crew did, and what occurred on their arrival in Boston, as well as their testimonies at the subsequent US Senate Inquiry in Washington DC and the British Inquiry in London. His narrator is John Steadman, a fictional journalist for the Boston American, whose story was instrumental in forcing master and crew to appear before the Inquiries.

The latter section of the book is a story titled Eight White Rockets, which Steadman has written as "an account the sea tragedy of the Titanic and the Sage Family", an actual family of eleven which perished in the sinking. Dyer's story is historical fiction but is based on fact. Many of the characters he fills out for the reader actually existed, and much of what he describes is backed up by witness accounts. Some of it is likely to leave the reader gasping.

Dyer's expertise in this field is apparent on every page. It should be noted that he spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic's owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship's officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His talent as an author ensures that this already-fascinating story takes on a human aspect. As well as being interesting and informative, this is a moving and captivating read.

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Reader Review: "The Girl Who Smiled Beads"

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 06:00
by Sue: This is one of the most difficult books I have read, yet it is an essential read. It is at once a memoir and an expose. How can I ever relate to Clemantine's life? I will never know her tragedy. The terrible genocide that was visited upon the Tutsi by the Hutu majority government becomes more than real in Clemantine's telling. I will never think of a refugee camp again with anything but horror.

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Reader Review: "Do Not Become Alarmed"

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 06:00
by Michael Haughton (Kingston,Jamaica): It all began with a cruise on a ship out in the wild seas. This family decided to make good on having a good time on a cruise. The writer made it clear from the beginning and so readers knew that from this came various scenes and misfortune.

Here is a short summary of the names of characters and events which I will tear apart with my intellect: When Liv and Nora decide to take their families on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite with this family.

Love the nonstop buffet and the independence they have at the Kids' Club. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor misfortunes leads the families farther and farther from the ship's safety. One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone. This summary was perfect but is the writer's narration?

I like the writer's style of the story. It includes the kids which were very intelligent and smart. This story had good insight and I kept reading on and on. I found no errs and I was surprise by that as usually a story like this had few errs but the writer was cleaver enough and very intelligent.

The only little flaw I had was that none of the kids knew Spanish well enough to know what the strange men and women were saying. These kids were frightened and hungry but also need medication. I was pleased with the plot because no info was given about what the men were doing with a shovel in the forest. My rating is high and I recommended this book to all readers.

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Reader Review: "Some Luck"

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 06:00
by Mal (California): Absolutely wonderful family saga. I fell in love with all the characters, the transitions between each one was incredibly well done, no make that flawless. The narrative has an easy, natural flow - simple yet detailed drawing the reader into the family fold. The beauty of the book - it takes an ordinary family dealing with everyday life and the roller coaster life can be. I could not put this book down, I cannot wait to continue the journey. Smiley is one incredible storyteller.

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Reader Review: "Bellweather Rhapsody"

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 06:00
by mtbikergirl: I loved this novel. It is funny, so funny I laughed out loud. It accurately and lovingly reflects how music truly entrances and collects musicians even before they become musicians. It is also brutally honest about musical prodigies, success and failure, dreams and reality. It is unpredictable and weaves a mystery, both past and present in an atmosphere that is ordinary yet chillingly creepy. It is also a coming of age story with characters so fully developed they rise off the page and follow you from room to room, leaving you to wonder of their futures beyond the book. Its mystery takes actions of the past and rolls them into the future almost like the skipping needle on an old record, turning endlessly then bumped into the next track dragging that skidding noise along with it.

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Reader Review: "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk"

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 06:00
by Davida Chazan (Jerusalem, Israel): This book made it to my "top 5 of 2017" list, and is certainly my favorite type of fiction (although usually this happens more with historical fiction, and less with contemporary fiction - of which this is essentially both), shining a light on real people about whom we know little to nothing about, and Rooney's spotlight was as startlingly bright as it was flattering. To begin with, Rooney's writing style is so sophisticated and charming that you can't help but believe that Lillian was not only a talented writer and poet, but that she must have been even more beguiling than Rooney portrays her.

Rooney's use of language is also endearingly witty, and I'm trying to figure out how many words in the thesaurus I'll need to use to describe this book, because it's already starting to run out of appropriate adjectives.

As you can see, I'm in love with this book, and that makes it terribly difficult to review without becoming so effusive that my readers get sick of me. So rather than go on and on with piles of compliments that get not only whipped cream but several cherries on top, I'm simply going to say that I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and it deserves more than just a full five stars out of five! (Note to self: where have you been all my reading life, Kathleen Rooney?)

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Reader Review: "Pachinko"

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 06:00
by James BC Yu (Korea): I was born in Japan of Korean parents and lived there till age 10. After Japan was defeated in 1945, our mother took us back to Korea. Our father was killed in 1944 in an accident while he was conscripted to work at a Japanese Navy Ship Yard. My family consisted of mother (32), sister (13), me (10) and 2 younger brothers (3) years apart. Once I started reading Pachinko, I couldn't stop reading because the main character, Sunja, is my sister, a strong and determined head of my family. I lived in Korea for another 10 years till after the end of Korean War. I have lived in the States over 6 decades.

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