Review: The Civilized World

Why I picked it: I was offered a review copy of this book and quickly accepted after reading the synopsis, learning the story is set in Africa, and discovering that the author lived in Africa (experiences to draw upon).

Synopsis: A glorious literary debut set in Africa about five unforgettable women—two of them haunted by a shared tragedy—whose lives intersect in unexpected and sometimes explosive ways.

When Adjoa leaves Ghana to find work in the Ivory Coast, she hopes that one day she'll return home to open a beauty parlor. Her dream comes true, though not before she suffers a devastating loss—one that will haunt her for years, and one that also deeply affects Janice, an American aid worker who no longer feels she has a place to call home. But the bustling Precious Brother Salon is not just the "cleanest, friendliest, and most welcoming in the city." It's also where locals catch up on their gossip; where Comfort, an imperious busybody, can complain about her American daughter-in-law, Linda; and where Adjoa can get a fresh start on life—or so she thinks, until Janice moves to Ghana and unexpectedly stumbles upon the salon.

At once deeply moving and utterly charming, The Civilized World follows five women as they face meddling mothers-in-law, unfaithful partners, and the lingering aftereffects of racism, only to learn that their cultural differences are outweighed by their common bond as women. With vibrant prose, Susi Wyss explores what it means to need forgiveness—and what it means to forgive.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I adored this novel.  It's told in short stories but after you read the first 4-5 stories the characters start to reappear.  The story is told in bits but leaves the reader completely satisfied with the ending of the story. 

I enjoyed Comfort and Linda, the MIL relationship can be a tough one without having to deal with cultural differences and traditions that they face.  It was interesting to learn about the importance of shaping a babies forehead to African culture/tribes.

I found myself comparing this novel to The Canterbury Tales, in that a lesson is told in each story that the reader can explore/discuss. 

This novel is beautifully written, the author is a wonderful storyteller.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Country: Ghana/Ethiopia
Source: Review Copy

Review: A Suitable Boy

Why I picked it: I saw that Ti (Book Chatter) was planning a read-a-long with another blogger, and since this book is on the list of 100 books everyone must read I thought I would attempt to read the 1,300+ page novel.   

Synopsis: Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: What can you say about a book that's three times longer than it should be?  I have no issues with the story and when I finished reading it I was left thinking, wow great ending!  If it was 500-600 pages I would give this one five stars.

The four families in this novel are wealthy.  In addition to reading about the quality of life for the wealthy, we learn about social grace for an educated woman (Lata) in the 1950's.  This story is filled with social status, religion and family dynamics.   Lata wants to be an independent woman, taking control of her life, but her mother is determined to find Lata a husband soon.

Now that I have finished this book... I enjoyed the story and am satisfied, it's long but the story moves quickly and I learned so much about a socialites life in India.

Have you read this book?  Did you like it?

Rating: If this book was 500 pages I would say 4/5 stars, it's one of those books that's better when it's over (if this makes sense)

Country: India
Challenge: Middle East reading challenge
Source: Personal Copy

Review: Sand in my Eyes

Why I picked it: Jill (Seaside Book Nook) suggested this book for the MMBC, we are reading a different book but the publisher sent a review copy for me to read.  Jill loved it so much that I wanted to read it.

Synopsis:  Twenty years ago, Anna Hott thought she could control everything — her crumbling marriage, her demanding children, her hectic life — by quitting her high-placed job in New York City and moving her family to tranquil Sanibel Island, Florida. But she brought her untamed emotions, her rage toward her cheating husband, and her yearning to write a novel with her. When her husband and children left the house for a week, Anna thought at last she would get her household, her novel, and her mind in order. Instead, her elderly neighbor Fedelina Aurelio knocked on her door bearing flowers and homespun wisdom, and when Fedelina's recently divorced son arrived, Anna had a test of passions and a test of truth.

Now, at 56 with an empty nest, Anna Holt pulls out the incomplete manuscript she started that memorable week and — to find closure for her life and a conclusion for her novel — travels to Indiana to visit Fedelina who lives in a nursing home.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: This books starts with Anna feeling sorry for herself.  Her husband travels for week every week, she has three young children to care for and no time for herself.  She uses her husband as her 'punching bag'... they are headed down a dark road.

In attempt to give Anna a break her husband sends the kids off for a week.  With one week to herself she plans to write but each day leads her on a new journey. The story is told as flashbacks - and older/wiser Anna visits her neighbor (now in a nursing home) to read her almost finished novel in hopes of finding peace and closure.

I really enjoyed moments in this book but wasn't interested at all in other parts.  Anna's emotions felt real and I did chuckle when she threw everything out of her house, for a yard sale.  I also like that she was still searching for peace years later.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: What the Dead Know

Why I picked it: I saw this title at the library last weekend and since I enjoyed I'd know you anywhere I thought I will try another novel by Laura Lippman.

Synopsis:  Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who or what could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?

Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.

Type: Fiction/suspense

Quick Take: This is exactly what I needed this week, a change from what I normally read.  This book kept me on my toes and the last two hours (audio) are filled with unexpected twists and turns to the plot.  Lippman writes complicated and smart novels, I can't wait to read another book by the author.

Have you read it?  If yes, what did you think about the ending?  I didn't expect this at all.... I'm still thinking about it.  I wonder if I would be able to forgive (I will leave it there so I don't spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it yet).

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library (Audio)
Challenge: 2011 audio book challenge

Review: Rescue

Why I Picked it: When I first discovered Shreve as an author I would anxiously visit my local bookstore to see if a new title was on the shelf.  This is long before I used the internet so I had no way to know a book was being published, in less it was noted at the book store or in my local paper.  I love Shreve's first 4-5 novels. 

The Pilot's Wife holds a special place in my heart, it's a book that I read shortly after a family emergency.  So I keep reading, hoping for another experience like Resistance, Fortune's Rock, The Weight of Water and The Last Time We Met.

Synopsis:  A rookie paramedic pulls a young woman alive from her totaled car, a first rescue that begins a lifelong tangle of love and wreckage. Sheila Arsenault is a gorgeous enigma—streetwise and tough-talking, with haunted eyes, fierce desires, and a never-look-back determination. Peter Webster, as straight an arrow as they come, falls for her instantly and entirely. Soon Sheila and Peter are embroiled in an intense love affair, married, and parents to a baby daughter. Like the crash that brought them together, it all happened so fast.

Can you ever really save another person? Eighteen years later, Sheila is long gone and Peter is raising their daughter, Rowan, alone. But Rowan is veering dangerously off track, and for the first time in their ordered existence together, Webster fears for her future. His work shows him daily every danger the world contains, how wrong everything can go in a second. All the love a father can give a daughter is suddenly not enough.

Sheila's sudden return may be a godsend—or it may be exactly the wrong moment for a lifetime of questions and anger and longing to surface anew. What tore a young family apart? Is there even worse damage ahead? The questions lifted up in Anita Shreve's utterly enthralling new novel are deep and lasting, and this is a novel that could only have been written by a master of the human heart.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Please don't take this the wrong way... this book reminded me of a Nicholas Sparks novel.  I enjoy Sparks and have read several of his books, enjoying each one.  It's just not what I've come to expect from a Shreve novel. 

This is a book about family, teenagers... the decisions people make (cause and effect of decisions made).  It's about a father trying to keep his family together but forced to make a tough decision, hoping the decision made was a good one. If a mother leaves a family for years, are they welcomed back with open arms or with trepidation...

I enjoyed this book, it's just what I was in the mood for. 

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Source: Audio (Library)

Challenge: Teresa's Audiobook Challenge

Review: The Kitchen Daughter

Why I picked it: I'm pretty careful when accepting books for review, only because we all know I'm not the fastest reader.  After reading the synopsis for this title... I knew I wanted to read it.  I was intrigued.

Synopsis: After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Ginny is a 26 year old girl who hides in the closet, talks to herself at times, and obsesses over cooking as a way to calm herself.  I hate to share to many details in the novel but the reader quickly learns something odd is happening between Ginny and her sister.  The story takes an unexpected twist pretty quickly and the rest of the book keeps coming back to something the reader knows, but the sisters do not. 

Ginny's sister comes across as self absorbed and determined.  I didn't like her in the beginning of the novel but by the end, once the secret is revealed... I liked her.  Very interesting way to write a novel, having the sisters not know something....

There are ghosts in the book, I'm generally not a fan of ghosts but they do move the story along and serve a purpose.  The ghosts worked for me. 

Have you read this book?  I would love to discuss it with someone.  It would make for a good summer read for my book club.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: A Very Long Engagement

Why I picked it: I saw this novel listed on Ti's (Book Chatter) book club list as an upcoming selection.  Her book club tends to read books that are much deeper/more serious than my book club so I was pleased to find a title that sounded interesting to me. 

Synopsis: Set during and after the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman's search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as "killed in the line of duty." Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: A beautifully written story worth reading... just know that you will read the tale of a soldier's last day about twenty times (letters from different soldiers).

I learned quite a bit while reading this book... how hard life was for families of the soldiers, the involvement of the French in WWI and the cruelty towards soldiers by their own countrymen. At the core of this story is a woman who is desperate to find out what happened to her fiance.  She's been told he's dead and sets out to discover exactly what happened to him.  She receives letters from men who claim to have witnessed the event, taking her on several journeys throughout the novel in hopes to discover what really happened.  This book is worth reading if you like historical fiction.  I didn't see the ending coming, which is always a welcome surprise.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Audio (Library)
Country: France

Challenge: Teresa's Audiobook Challenge

Review: Exit the Actress

Why I Picked It: I have been reading author Priya Parmar's blog for probably two years, it's so exciting to connect with a writer while they are writing and get to see a book published.  This book is getting rave reviews!

The Manic Mommies Book Club will be discussing this book with the author on May 18th.  If you would like to read with us, watch for a book giveaway to be announced later today, on the Manic Mommies website.

Synopsis:  While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: First let me say I adore reading books written in letters, journal entries, and articles.  It's a fun twist to the reading experience. 

Ellen is a sweet young girl caught up in her families fall.  Her father has died and her mother loves to drink, her sister... well...I really enjoyed her sister throughout the novel.  While reading about Ellen's rise to fame, I enjoyed the history lesson.  Priya is a beautiful writer. 

I had plans to meet with Priya in February, I'm sorry I wasn't able to make this happen (I was in Australia when she was in NYC).  If you enjoy historical fiction, you will love this book.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Source: Review copy & (I purchased the audio to listen while walking the dog)
Challenge: Teresa's Audiobook Challange

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