This book is apparently an Oscar winning movie…but I didn’t know that when I picked it up. It’s a strange story, that takes place over a short two-day period, in a hayloft, will surprise you, anger you, and scare you. Here is my book review Women Talking by Miriam Toews.
Mennonite Colony, Bolivia
This book (and subsequently the film) is loosely based on a real crime that took place in a Mennonite Colony in Bolivia. Over a period of several years, the men of the colony consistently drugged and rapped women in their sleep…even girls as young as three. The women are told by the men that they have been visited by the Devil because of their sins.
Eventually one women wakes up during the ordeal and discovers the two men attacking her. At first the men of the colony try to impose justice within the colony, until one of the women tries to kill the men and another woman commits suicide. The perpetrators are then arrested by the Bolivian authorities and sent to jail.
While the other men go to the city to try to bail out the suspects and bring them home, the women gather in a hayloft to discuss what they might do to save themselves. Only one man is present in this secret meeting. August Epp is invited to take “notes” since none of the women are literate. The question at hand is should the women stay and fight? Or should they flee? They have very little time to make a decision. The personalities of the women come into play heavily in the discussion, argument, consideration and eventual decision.
Written in an interesting style, Toews has you pulling for these women…despite the fact they are illiterate, don’t speak the local language, have no money, transportation or even a map. Can this story end happily?
Thank you for reading my book review Women Talking by Miriam Toews.
Often over used, the word epic is the right choice for this novel which I listened to on Audible. I’ve been working my way through several Man Booker Prize winners from the past, and Sacred Hunger won this coveted prize way back in 1992. It’s a brilliant novel that still holds up nearly 30 years later. Here is my book review Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth.
Unsworth is a real talent for historical novels. The character development of this literary masterpiece is the glue to this saga.
Britain’s Sacred Hunger
Sacred Hunger, the term, is used to describe the greed and power and control used by Britain in the 1700’s to capture and transport Africans to use as slaves throughout the colonies. The book follows the folly of the “slaver” ship The Liverpool Merchant, owned by William Kemp. Kemp’s failing fortunes are devastated when the Liverpool Merchant disappears at sea, presumably lost killing crew and slaves alike. Kemp’s son and heir Erasmus, finds his dead father after his suicide due to the financial failing. Erasmus with no prospects must start from scratch to survive.
Twelve years later Erasmus will hear of a colony in Florida, living peaceably together white and black, the possible survivors of the Liverpool Merchant. Erasmus will set out for revenge against those who he believes he still owns.
Told in a parallel story (and on audible in brilliant voices by the talented David Rintoul) the survivors of the Liverpool Merchant are many; Irish, British, African and more. Babies have been born, some have died, but together a society has been formed with no particular leader, although the doctor is one of several who stepped up to show leadership when a mutiny killed the captain.
So Much More
I’ll stop here for fear of giving too much away, but I loved this book…a perfect mix of fact and fiction and the life of slave traders, sailors and slaves alike. Engaging, deeply flawed, captivating and believable characters
Thank you for reading my book review Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. *****Five stars for Sacred Hunger.
Okay, usually when I don’t love a book I don’t write a review about it. However, this book is one that I know a lot of people would actually enjoy…it’s just not my cup of tea. Described by even the author herself as “Hallmark Channel”…I struggled. But, if you are a fan of sweet, small town romance, read this book. Here is my book review Book Lovers by Emily Henry.
Nora Stephens is a cutthroat literary agent. Prone to failed relationships, she spends her time being successful for both her clients and herself. The only person Nora would ever bend over backwards for is her beloved younger sister Libby.
So when Libby invites Nora to spend a month in a tiny little town called Sunshine Falls, Nora, with a groan, agrees. Libby presents Nora with a list of all the fun and unusual things they will do during their month-long get-away. But right off the bat Nora runs into her nemesis from back in New York City, book editor Charlie Lastra. Nora and Charlie both have a reputation of being difficult and driven. But when in Sunshine Falls…
The book for me was so predictable I didn’t even need to finish it to know how it ends. A few too many coincidences to keep the story moving. Suffice to say, it’s happily ever after. And despite lots of drama that includes grief, failing businesses, high-strung authors, and an unexpected announcement from Libby… Nora will find a way to be happy in love, career, life, and New York City.
As you likely know if you have been following all these years, I track my reading year from August to July. Nothing fancy, just keep a little tally in my notebook of all the books I read. This year I read 69 books, (11 fewer than last year) and today I will share with you some of my favorites, once again, for Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.
Over the past year I have written 52 book reviews, pulling into reviews my favorites of the 69 books. Fifty of the 69 were read on my kindle, four were traditional books, while 15 were audible books we listened to on road trips or in the car while home in the USA. Some of my top books of the year were on Audible…a fantastic way to enjoy a book while driving.
So as in the past several years (see our year in review from 2022 and 2021) I’m sharing my most favorites in a Top Fifteen list, and a few honorable mentions too. Some outstanding novels, biographies, historical non-fiction, as well as Booker and Pulitzer winners. Other than the number one slot here, the books are in no particular order.
My Top Fifteen
Here are my favorites from July 2022 to July 2023;
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese One of the best books I have read in several years, Verghese is a brilliant man and writer and I will read anything he writes in the future. My favorite book hands down of this past year. Go Read This Book!
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – powerful yet sentimental this story of a brilliant woman scientist in the “women stay home” 1950’s will make you life, cry and jump for joy. Soon to be a movie too I hear.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – O’Farrell has a magnificent talent to weave real historical characters into fictional historical novels so perfectly you will wonder if the story is biographical. A beautiful read.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanaghihara I believe in my book review of this book I used the phrase mind-boggling. Indeed it was. A spectacular achievement in fiction, difficult to explain, sometimes confounding, absolutely worth the effort. I loved it.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2023, this fantastic story of drug abuse, poverty and abandonment in Appalachian USA is deep and sometimes difficult to read. But read it anyway.
The Whalebone Theater by Joanna Quinn – set in England before and then during WWII, the changes in Quinn’s astonishing cast of characters through the book and the war will keep you turning every page. A deep story of the meaning of family.
Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris – I had never heard the historical fact that the killers of King Charles I in England escaped to New England. This part is true. What Harris does so eloquently in this book is imagine how the manhunt for these killers evolves over more than a decade. I really enjoyed it.
This is Happiness by Niall Williams – Sweet, heartfelt and identifiable. This is a story about that one great love. This is a story about life. It will make you smile, cry and remember your first love and past regrets. An unforgettable and well written story.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks – Brooks has two books in my top 15 this year (see #14) and Horse is her most recent. She uses the human activity centered around a horse – a real horse from the past – to create this fictional story of racism through the centuries.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler – what a tale of both fact and fiction of the infamous John Wilkes Booth and his family. The trials and tribulations of this family make a great story, long before anyone shoots Lincoln. Extreme poverty to wealth and prosperity are combined with unfathomable loss of of children and property, alcoholism and rivalry, illegitimate accusations, polygamy, ego, and family love and regret. This was a perfect Audible on a long road trip last summer.
The Night Ship by Jess Kidd – The real life wreck of the Dutch East Indies flagship Batavia in 1629 is the basis for this fictional novel. Wrecked near Beacon Island, the horrifying experience of the survivors of the Batavia is one of the most barbaric ever recorded. Kidd brilliantly chronicles the events in both fact and myth through the eyes of two small children in The Night Ship.
The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead – A very long saga of a book about a female pilot in the early days of pilots and airplanes. Yes it is long…but I loved it. At first I thought it was about a real person; the character is fictional but comes to life under Shipstead’s genius
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – This is Brooks second appearance this year in my top 15. Loosely based on Eyram Derbyshire, a real village that had to quarantine itself during the black plague. Brooks creates a fictional village in 1666. When an infected bolt of fabric makes its way to the isolated village from London, the protagonist Anna’s life will change forever.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – Young Daniel and his father run an antique bookstore in Barcelona during a time when Spain and the city are reeling from war. Daniel has lost his mother, and in his grief he finds solace in a mysterious book but the search for the author will nearly kill him.
Local Author – The Whiskey Creek Water Company by Jan Walker – Walker, who lives in my local town, presented one of my favorites this year in a sweet and simple book about a tiny fictional village in the Pacific Northwest during the prohibition.
Humor – Guncle by Steven Rowley – Gay Uncle Patrick (Gup) also known to his niece and nephew as Guncle, finds his world turned upside down when a family tragedy back home in Connecticut has him caring for his niece and nephew all summer in Palm Springs. I fell in love with the characters and this family story.
Favorite Author – Delicious by Ruth Reichl- I have been a Reichl fan for years. Celebrated memoir author, food writer and former editor of Gourmet Magazine, her first novel is for foodies as well as anyone who has lost someone they love.
Two of my favorite things to do in the world are travel and read…and for the same reason. Both take you to unknown places, where you meet new people and encounter different ways of life. Both open your eyes to alternative ways of life, educate you and present new ways to think and see the world and beyond. Get out there and explore…books are the perfect way for ANYONE to do that. Just. Go. Read!
Thanks for reading this week’s Reading Wednesday post Sixth Annual Reading Round Up 2023.
A Novel about Parisian life in the 20th century, the occupation of France during World War II and a Jewish family with deep and tragic secrets – Anne Berest writes both from her true family experiences and fiction. This was a beautifully told story. Here is my book review The Post Card by Anne Berest.
A Mysterious postcard arrives in the mail with the usual holiday cards to the Berest Family home. The card has no return address or signature. Only the names of the four family members who were murdered at Auschwitz – Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents, Ephraïm and Emma, and their children, Noémie and Jacques. No one knows the meaning of the post card. Is it a threat or harassment in the increasingly xenophobic Europe? Or something else.
The author, on bedrest during her pregnancy, discusses the long-forgotten postcard with her mother. Her chain-smoking mother Lelia begins to weave the tale of the Rabinovitch family from the research she has done over the years as Anne spends the last few months of her pregnancy with her mother.
Six Years Later
Once again the postcard is put out of mind as Anne raises her daughter Clara and continues her career. Until Clara has a playground encounter where another child says “my family doesn’t like Jews.” She asks her grandmother “Are we Jewish?’.
Before Anne has a chance to talk to Clara about this incident she herself is questioned about her own “Jewishness” when she attends her first Seder dinner. At the dinner she is accused of being “Jewish when it’s convenient”.
These events will catapult Anne, with significant help from her Mother, into research about the post card’s sender, her family, the occupation and the death camps. With the result being a novel based on facts and imagined family conversations, activities and events.
First published in France and beautifully translated to English, I loved this family story that reads a bit like a detective story, a bit like an autobiography and a bit like historical romance. A work that will break your heart and give you hope. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Post Card by Anne Berest.
****Four stars for The Post Card by Anne Berest.
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Sometimes I have authors or publishers reach out to me and ask me to read and review books. I love doing that especially for books produced by small publishing house or even those self-published by the author. Getting published is HARD. And the competition is fierce. This book was brought to me by Jackie Karnath, Sr. Publicist at Books Forward, a book marketing company. I was happy to look at another one of her clients having enjoyed Florida by Lauren Goff a couple years ago. So, here is my Book Review Snakes of St. Augustine by Ginger Pinholster.
First of all, this is not a horror story about snakes. But it is a story where snakes feature prominently. If you suffer from ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes), you still should give this book a try. I actually learned a lot about snakes and snake behavior in this book. All that said, the deeper message in this book is a story about the tragedy of mental illness.
Florida is where this novel is based, fittingly as the state is home to 44 species of snakes. We are introduced to a variety of characters in this story. First we meet Trina who runs a Serpentarum for protection and education about Florida snakes. When someone breaks in to the Serpentarium and steals some of her most valuable snakes the plot will begin to revolve around a cast of characters. Gerthin a very troubled young man whose love of animals in general and snakes in particular is a suspect. His sister Serena who has been raising him since their mother abandoned them a decade earlier is trying to understand and help her misfit brother.
In addition to Gerthin’s mental needs the novel brings in the character of Jazz, a homeless student living in a park, and refusing to take his bipolar meds. His gigantic mood swings and frantic love for Serena will both intrigue and frighten her. Helping to recover the stolen snakes is local cop Fletch, only months away from retirement he is trying to keep his head down while grappling with the grief of loosing his wife the year before.
Throughout the book as the search for the stolen snakes ensues, Pinholster gently weaves the topics of homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness, abandonment and loneliness into a lovely novel you initially think is about snakes. At it’s core it’s about family. I enjoyed the book very much.
Thank you for reading my book review Snakes of St. Augustine by Ginger Pinholster.
Some of Maggie O’Farrell’s work becomes favorites such as Hamnet and The Marriage Portrait…both top my favorites lists. Clearly it’s her historic fiction that I prefer. But on my husband’s recommendation I set out to read This Must Be The Place. I liked it but can’t say I loved it. Here is my book review This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell.
O’Farrell introduces us to a plethora of characters, each connected in some way to our protagonist Daniel Sullivan. We meet Daniel as a man living in a reclusive part of Ireland with his somewhat eccentric wife and three children. But as the story unfolds we will learn details about each of their lives and why they are “hiding” in a remote location.
Daniel has led somewhat of a bizarre life, makes a living as a linguist, despises his father back in Brooklyn, has lost track of college friends and never sees his two grown children in California.
When Daniel stumbles upon Claudette and her young son Ari, he doesn’t at first realize who she is. But as they get to know each other Daniel realizes Claudette is the former bombshell movie star who dropped off the face of the earth at the height of her film career.
Somehow these two unlikely characters fall in love and get married. But while Claudette is reclusive Daniel knows all of her secrets, but Claudette will learn she hardly knows any of Daniels…including information about past loves, abortions, alcoholism and a mysterious death.
Can this couple survive the twists and turns life throws at them? With the help of family who loves them, maybe they can.
A unique and complicated story, but in my opinion not O’Farrell’s best.
***Three stars for This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
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