The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street
By Naquib Mahfouz
Published in Arabic 1957 Translated into English in 1992
Mahfouz was awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature. This trilogy was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
These books take place in Egypt during the world wars, and follow one family, as they face the many changes in their society. Early in this saga, the men spend their nights drinking to inebriation and having numerous affairs, while the wives are forbidden to leave their homes and must wait on their spouses. We watch curiously as roles change with time. Mahfouz has a unique style of writing – often, characters speak and then we read what they really meant to say, but could not. A challenge for the reader is keep track of long Arabic names, and to understand the varied political aspect of the wars. All in all, you will come to love, laugh and cry with this family, and see them in all their complexity, then sadly say goodbye to them at the end.
A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
Copyright 2017 4 and ½ stars Historical Fiction
(Jordan–Lake did enormous research to write this book)
Outstanding novel that takes place in Charleston, SC during the failed Slavery Uprising of 1822, which was spearheaded by slave members of The African Methodist Church and then to the present horrible mass shooting in the same landmark church. Novel focuses on a slave’s choice to either save himself from the nooses to protect the woman he loves or lead the rebellion. Meanwhile, Kate, a present day Harvard grad student comes to Charleston trying to figure out why her recently deceased mother was obsessed with that slave rebellion of 1822. Actually eventually Kate uncovers her own personal family connection to it. Throughout the book, Kate becomes enmeshed in a group of people that help her uncover the mystery, she becoming romantically involved with one of them. Stellar book examines slave brutality yet ends with enduring hope for freedom and forgiveness. Loved this book, so skillfully written!
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Copyright 2016 4 and 1/2 stars
Historical Fiction – NY Times Bestseller
WW2 book set in London and war time island, Malta. Novel is actually based on real- life love letters between author’s grandparents. So many books about this tragically brutal war, but this particular gem seems different in a good way. Cleave brings to life characters that are witty and funny, at the same time disparate, starving and emotionally deplete. There’s a life changing glance between a soldier going off to war at train station and a wealthy school teacher based in London whose school is destroyed, with many pupils lost. The two correspond throughout the miseries of war, he being maimed and she becoming a morphine addict. What is their hope of finding true love after all this? Can their lives be patched together to resemble happier times? If you are brave enough to read this, you are forgiven for not being there.
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Young Adult Fiction 4 stars
2003 Winner of Medals and Honors
This book is a somewhat hidden gem and it is beautifully written. The year is around 1906. A young girls dreams of escaping the brutal life on the farm, straddled with raising siblings, cooking, cleaning, farming the land, milking, chickens, the whole shebang, and whatever else her controlling, depressed father wants her to do. This does not include going to college. A spinster teacher in town supports her desire to become a writer. The girl takes a job working at a resort near where she lives and she uncovers the details regarding a murder. There is a thread throughout this story, based loosely on the famous murder that took place back then in upstate NY.
Can be found on “Listen Up Vermont”
Mary’s childhood life was one of neglect, with alcoholic parents. She became an alcoholic mother and wife. It is excruciating to witness from her own perspective the ugliness and desperation of living in constant fear of falling off the wagon…which she does, over and over again. Through the support of sober friends and AA, she learned to be grateful, pray, and is sober now, and able to write. And write well she does! I loved this book because I learned a lot from her experience with faith. She has 2 earlier memoirs (Liars Club and Cherry) focusing on her younger years.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty,
2013 450 pages 4 ½ stars
Imagine finding out about a husband’s secret that is so horrific that your life becomes unbearable and so you spin totally out of control. You ask yourself how this person you thought you knew and trusted could have behaved so savagely. This novel follows the lives of 3 very different women all facing incredibly difficult life challenges. The author ties these women together as their lives becoming interwoven in fascinating ways. The books reads in a quick, shocking, and totally absorbing manner and the climax is profound! I found the plot complex and thought provoking and enjoyed it even more than her novel, Big Little Lies that in itself was stellar.
The Nix by Nathan Hill (his debut novel)
2016 732 pages… 4 stars
I feel like I have just been on the most amazing strange and powerful journey. Novel begins in 2011 when this woman attacks a Republican Presidential Candidate and the authorities quickly link her to when she was a radical Viet Nam Protester back in 1968 during the Chicago Convention Riots. Her son, whom she abandoned at a young age, is basically torn between helping her get acquitted from serious charges and writing a book to tarnish her forever. This is the story of her life and how she got here from there. The son’s life has been conflicted by a very close and odd relationship with a boy and girl set of twins he met as a youth. He is also being slandered at his college professor job. This novel is very sensual in parts, very heart breaking, and very entertaining. The style is unique – a run on sentence sometimes lasts for an entire long paragraph. I just loved the 60’s part; it transported me back to familiar times!
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
2016 ….4 1/2 stars
Stars (Stacey pick)
Shelby, an average teenager, has a car wreck and her passenger, her best friend, becomes comatose for her life. Shelby hits rock bottom not able to continue in even the most common sort oflife. Book takes you on her journey as she climbs her way back in N Y City among castoffs and odd people (plus some stray canines). She breaks a heart and has her own broken, and she achieves greatness in her own rite. As a teenager or mother of one, this novel will have you cheering Shelby on and help you believe in angels and miracles alike. A heart-throb for sure!
4 stars (Leta pick)
Ove, a grumpy, old fart with a short anger fuse, and strict adherence to a rigid way of living falls to pieces after his beloved wife passes. Each time he tries to check out to join her in an afterlife another bothersome neighbor appears with kindness and love. Ove appears to hate all these people, but fate shows them to be the catalyst in his healing broken heart, He even tries to throw out a stray cat that won’t give up on him. This novel is both heart- warming and hilarious, and I couldn’t stop my tears from spilling onto the last pages…will you be transformed into another believer that life is sweetest when shared with others, no matter what their oddities are?
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Copyright 2017 406 pages
5 stars!! (Gary gave 5 stars as well-he’s read all 29 of this author’ books)
A detective crime novel that is fast paced, easy to follow, simply written and stellar in its ability to keep the reader begging for the next page! The protagonist, a young female detective, is fighting the “old boys club” mentality when her supervisor gives her the nighttime beat in California’s Hollywood district as punishment for her filing a sexual harassment complaint against him. The 3 cases she works and obsesses about puts both her career and her life in perilous danger. I can’t think of a more suspenseful and riveting crime story period!
Copyright 2017 342 pages
4 stars (librarian pick)
Murder mysteryabout a “tiger mom” who has driven her young podigy daughter to wreckage pushing her to achieve unattainable perfection. Meanwhile, her step daughter is shunned and treated poorly…while a son lives a “stoner” life. Husband is so tormented by this crazy dangerous behavior of wife that he turns to women and booze to escape the terrible situation at home. One child runs away and then the mother comes to a tragic death. Who killed her and why ? This book really uncovers in a poignant way the power games played by family members and each their unique ways to rebel against the mother. Face paced and engaging story.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
(author of Snow Girl and the Secret Fan) ( I have read six of this Chinese American author’s novels and this one doesn’t disappoint)
307 pages 4 stars
The story takes place mostly in present day China and follows a poverty stricken hill country village with their life work of harvesting
tea trees. The main character, Li-yan, rejects the village rituals and customs by having a baby our of wedlock and giving this baby up for adoption to Americans. The book basically follows the lives of mother and daughter, both desperately seeking to find each other. You learn fascinating information on how this village harvests their world sought after unique Pu’er tea, and how their lives change drastically as they benefit financially from its sales. The author has done an enormous amount of research on the subject. What a lovely celebration of the ties that bind! The conclusion is both heart warming and spiritually satisfying.
Copyright 2017 305 pages
Another stellar book Kiernan writes about WW2, and the occupation of a tiny French village by Nazi’s, and then their liberation, after the town has been ravaged by war. The character development is so well done, and the story line unique and interesting. I will neverforget the heroine, Emma, and her courage to carry on, with unselfish sacrifices – her main focus being to secretly, yet dangerously, help her fellow villagers. You will laugh, weep, and you will not forget this touching story! The D-Day warring is graphic and not for the faint of heart, yet the book’s conclusion will have you cheering!
Copyright 2016 Murder Mystery (Leta’s Pick)
4 1/2 stars
The main character, Nora, finds her sister brutally murdered and becomes obsessed with finding the killer. She stalks a neighbor
she is convinced is the culprit, but eventually, she, herself, becomes the suspect. The book takes place in London, with all those funny terms for things. The writer’s style can challenge you a bit in ways that you are often brought back in time without obvious clues. The book skillfully reveals how those disturbing memories of your past can haunt and hold you captive for a lifetime. I stayed up well past my bedtime to read the conclusion of this book with its shocking and unsuspected ending. A superb and very exciting psychological mystery.
The Good Father by Noah Hawley
(Author of Before the Fall) copyright 2012
4 1/2 stars (Leta Watkins Pick)
What if you had a son from a previous marriage that is accused of assassinating a Presidential candidate that almost the entire country wants elected? He was their new JFK, their hopes for a fut
ure, and their dreams of a better country. This all rode on his shoulders. This is a quick paced psychological thriller which keeps you in this eerie kind of zone as his father sets out on a quest to, against all odds, free his sons from the death sentence. But first he must follow in his son’s steps as he ties together that last year of aimless wandering his son embarked on across USA. This read keeps you so captivated and helplessly engaged right through to the end. What an honest and poignant look at parenting.
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
Copyright 2017 (my Adopted Author)
4 1/2 stars
Elin is at the top of her game!! – I’ve read all her 19 books and this one is a hoot and as juicy as can be! Story about twin identical sisters, one living on Nantucket Island, and the other, Martha’s Vineyard. Twins are worlds apart & as different as can be, but estranged for over 10 years. Plot is original, but basically Parent Trap theme. They find themselves in circumstances that have them switch lives and islands. Tabitha has a completely out of control teenager, and Harper, a police record and enough
scandalous behavior that she is shunned by the whole island. This book cannot be more outrageous and has an incredible happy ending that warms the heart. Pack this book into your summer bag and have a perfect beach theme and fun-filled novel!
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
(A Memoir) Copyright 2016
4 stars (Stacey’s pick)
Melton writes about her troubled life, starting in her youth, and describes the brutal path that leads her to bulimia, drugs and wanton sex. Once she hits rock bottom, pregnant and having drunken black outs every night, she marries and starts a journey which leads to the ultimate betrayal by the man she assumed she could trust. We watch as she delves unto psychotherapy, yoga and healthy pursuits and cheer Glennon on as she finally makes her way back. We are also astonished by how this married couple can face their pain and dysfunction and finally find a beautiful deep and true love. An inspiring account of what it is to be a Love Warrior.
The Punch by Noah Hawley
4 1/2 stars (Gary Watkins’ pick)
“Brotherly love never hurt so good!” An incredible story about the most dysfunctional family one could ever imagine, yet a family that displays fierce loyalty and love despite all odds against it. Two brothers worlds apart with one obviously dead ended in life, the other by all accounts highly successful (until we discover that he has a wife and family on each side of the country.) Mother is not dealing well with her new path into widowhood and we watch her unravel as they take a trip to NYC where they will have a memorial for the father and then on to Maine to bury his ashes at their childhood vacation spot. Hawley spins the tale well and keeps you enraptured to the book’s astonishing and hilarious conclusion. He writes with wit and a fresh approach to dialogue. This book is at the same time desperate and funny, insane and addictive.
A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
4 stars (An International Best Seller)
Book takes place in Afghanistan where a woman is found at the scene of her husband’s brutal killing, and is falsely accused. The story takes you on a journey into prison where she is surrounded by other women accused of ridiculously insignificant crimes resulting merely from their plight of living in an old, traditional culture. Her young Afghan-born American-raised lawyer wants to make a breakthrough into such an unjust system of law against women, but it’s a huge struggle and exhausting. You really get a glimpse of life behind closed doors in this society, plus follow the woman’s mother who practices witchcraft. Can she save her daughter from execution secretly knowing her daughter is hiding the shameful truth about the murder to save the honor of a child? A gripping story with a real foreign feel to it.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Ng’s debut book…whew…this was a perfectly addictive novel that begins with a bang. Lydia is missing, then found dead and her parents and siblings dive into destruction after this tragedy. The book shows in an amazingly smooth and keenly observed style how a mixed race couple had driven their daughter to extremes by their obsessive pressure for her to achieve greatness and fit in. You come to view how this family really functions in their dysfunctions and secrets. I loved this read – it was highly emotional and a fast paced mystery.