Book Review – The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers

This book has been longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award and in my opinion as an avid reader, I completely understand why.

This book has alternating timelines and storylines where we follow one protagonist, Yale Tishman, from 1985 to 1992.  Fiona’s story, the other protagonist, intersects Yale’s story and weaves back and forth in time from 1985 to 2015.

We first meet these characters at Fiona’s brother’s funeral.  Nico was a victim of the AIDS epidemic and one of the first in Yale’s group of friends to contract and die from the virus.  In 1985 there is a lot of misinformation about AIDS and a lot of homophobia.  Nico’s parents insisted that he die in a hospital that they were comfortable with but it was a horrible experience for Nico and his friends.  Medical staff didn’t want to touch Nico, they didn’t want Nico’s “gay friends” at his bedside and this just added to the depth of grief and trauma that his friends and Fiona experienced.

The story continues with Yale, the development director of a Chicago art gallery, who is trying to obtain a private donor’s collection of art painted in 1920’s Paris.  While the donor specifically has requested that this art be given to the gallery, her family is obstructive to Yale’s efforts because of course, they would like to get their hands on the collection as part of their inheritance.  While Yale maneuvers to obtain the collection, at the same time his life continues to be turned upside down when friend after friend receives the news that they have tested positive for the virus.

The other story that the reader keeps returning to is set more in the present day with Nico’s sister, Fiona.  She spent about eight to ten years deep in the AIDS crisis helping to nurse and support not only her brother, Nico, but also his friends when they started to get sick and die.  By the time her brother’s last friend passes in 1992, she is shell shocked from the grief and has just given birth to her own child, Claire.  In her 2016 storyline, she is in Paris looking for Claire, with whom she is estranged.  Claire disappeared into a cult a few years earlier and recently Fiona has received information that her daughter is now living in Paris and has a little girl of her own.  Fiona stays with Richard, an old friend of Nico’s that has managed to stay healthy and she hires a detective to help her locate her daughter and granddaughter.

I am giving this book five stars.  While I think that Fiona’s storyline at times was a bit weak, I still loved the book and I think the author did a brilliant job in conveying what the early days of the AIDS crisis was really like including the lack of knowledge on the part of the medical profession, misinformation about the disease and the isolation that AIDS victims felt.

I believe that this book will resonate with anyone who was in their 20’s and 30’s during the 1980s and early 1990s AIDS crisis before funding was allocated for research and medication. So many gay men died without family by their side because either they were still “in the closet” or they were estranged because their family didn’t agree with their lifestyle.  Even more died not only without family but also friends because by the time they got ill, they were the last of their group of friends to die.  To this day, approximately one million people die from AIDS each year and 35.4 million have died from AIDS related diseases.

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Blog Tour!!!! – A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes – Released Sept. 13/18

First of all, such a pretty, intriguing cover and it is a debut novel!!!

A Little Bird Told Me

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and it is now available as of September 13, 2018.  I am also excited to say that I was asked whether I would be willing to take part in the author’s blog tour and of course I said yes because I loved this book!!

This story is told from the point of view of Robyn as an adult, however, the storyline actually starts in the past when she was a young girl growing up with her brother, Kit, her mother and step-father.  We get alternating chapters between past and present as the story builds.  Back in the summer of 1977 during a record breaking heat wave, Robyn remembers her mother taking in a neighbor and her young son as her husband was physically violent and she had just been assaulted.  The husband is held by the police and the town becomes divided over Robyn’s mother’s involvement in what was considered “a personal matter”.  With the heat wave on, it also does not take a lot to escalate tensions.  It also appears that Robyn’s mother and step-father are keeping secrets and with Robyn being young, there is a lot that she doesn’t understand due to her age.  Years later we learn that Robyn’s mother disappeared that summer and now Robyn and Kit have come home to finally get some answers as to what happened all those summers ago.

I really enjoyed this book – I found it intriguing and it held my attention all the way through.  Highly recommend this gem of a book and I look forward to seeing other books in the future from this author.

Speaking of the author, below is a little bit of information about Marianne along with a pic.

Marianne Holmes was born in Cyprus to RAF parents and bounced between the UK, Germany, Kuwait and Belgium until firmly basing herself in London – well, apart from those years in the Peak District. A love of language led to degrees in Classics and Linguistics from the University of London but her desire to pay the mortgage steered her to a career in Marketing. After distracting herself in all sorts of ways over the years – sailing, flying, volunteering and running away to India – she is now definitely, absolutely concentrating on her writing. Well, that and making sure her children get fed, clothed and entertained. Obviously. A Little Bird Told Me is Marianne’s first novel.

M. Holmes

thumbnail_A Little Bird Told Me blog tour poster 2

Book Review – An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes

It is 1980 and Polly and Frank live in Buffalo and are in love.  They decide to take a road trip to New Orleans, however, a wrong turn ends up with them landing in Galveston, Texas.  When they left Buffalo, they had no idea what the next few days would have in store for them.  An accident at a disease control agency leads to a deadly virus pandemic that infects not only the United States, but most of the world in a matter of days.  Soon Frank is sick and while there is a vaccine available for everyone, it is not very effective and only the wealthy or people with good health care plans actually get access to the vaccine that has any possibility of working.  Frank is not wealthy and has no health care but Polly is desperate to save him so she agrees to time travel to 1993 through a corporation called Time Raiser.  Frank doesn’t want Polly to go, however, she convinces him that it is the only way that he has a chance of surviving and they make a plan to meet at the Houston International Airport on September 4, 1993 with a backup plan of meeting at the Flagship Hotel in Galveston on any Saturday in September if the airport meet-up doesn’t work.

Immediately there are problems with Polly’s time travel.  Unbeknownst to her, the date of her arrival has been changed from 1993 to 1998.  This would mean that Frank would be 18 years older (and presumably healthy if the vaccine worked) but in reality Polly would only be an hour or two older (the time that it took to time travel).  It also meant that Frank would have no idea that she wouldn’t appear again until 1998.

When Polly gets to 1998, she is still in Galveston, however, it is nothing like she remembers.  Eighteen years have passed and the city has gone through the pandemic.  The United States is now divided into two separate countries with the northern part, including Buffalo, being the United States and the southern section, including Texas, being America.  Not only has 18 years passed for Frank, but Polly isn’t even in the same country now as Frank or her aunt Donna who helped raise Polly.

By accepting the terms of time travel from Time Raiser, Polly has agreed to work for the corporation for a given number of months in order to pay off her debt for the cost of the time travel and Frank’s medical care.  Life in 1998 America, however, is not what she thought it would be.  Galveston, along with most of the cities in America are decimated in that there have been no workers to keep services operating so bridges have collapsed, water systems no longer work, highways and streets are still congested from car accidents that happened over a decade ago and power can be non-existent in certain areas of the city.   Throughout Polly’s struggle to get through each day, her hope to meet up with Frank becomes harder to hang onto.

I think the author did a really good job with the concept of the time travel aspect of this book, but I found the descriptions of 1998 America quite depressing to read and I didn’t enjoy that part of the book.  I also wasn’t overly happy with the ending.

Book Review – The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

The Lost Letters of William Woolf

 

I received this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  It is currently available now in the UK; available in the United States on October 2, 2018; however, will not be available in Canada until 2019.

William Woolf works as a letter detective at the Dead Letters Depot in London.  He is only one of several “detectives” that are responsible for reviewing letters and parcels that are sent to his department because they were undeliverable due to circumstances like incorrect addresses, insufficient addresses, or ripped packages.  William spends his days searching for addresses and people to determine whether the letter or parcel can be delivered.  Sometimes if it is a valuable item and he can determine the recipient, he hand-delivers the item to ensure it arrives at its destination safely.

William has been married for a number of years to Clare.  She is a successful lawyer who has started becoming resentful of what she perceives to be William’s lack of ambition to better himself.  William had plans to write a book about his adventures working at the Dead Letters Depot but long-term writer’s block has pretty much scuppered that plan.  Their marriage has become strained and when William discovers several letters from a woman named Winter who is looking for her soulmate that she hasn’t met yet, William starts to wonder whether he is actually Winter’s soulmate.

I found this book enjoyable, especially the parts where William solves the mystery of an undelivered parcel and ensures that it gets to its rightful owner.  I think the author did a good job of showing the feelings of both William and Clare so you felt empathy for both individuals.

 

Book Review – Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller

Forever a Hero

This is the third book in “The Carsons of Mustang Creek” series.  It centers around Mace Carson, the third son in the trilogy (although his two brothers from the previous books are also in the story).  Mace resides on his family’s ranch, however, he is a vintner with a successful, though small, winery.  Kelly works for a marketing agency and she comes to the ranch to meet Mace to try to sign him up as a client.  Although Kelly remembers Mace, he doesn’t remember Kelly at first.  A number of years ago, Mace saved Kelly from a sexual assault on their college campus and she has never forgotten him despite a marriage and subsequent divorce.  This follows the typical formula of a romance and I found it enjoyable.

Book Review – The Chess Men by Peter May

The Chess Men

 

The Chess Men is the third outing in the Lewis trilogy by Peter May.  The main character, Fin MacLeod, has recently accepted a position to oversee security at a local estate; in particular, his job is to catch salmon poachers.  He has been advised by his boss that Whistler MacAskill, an old friend of Fin’s has been poaching on the estate and he wants Fin to ensure that it stops.  Fin follows Whistler one night across the moors until a fierce storm hits and Whistler saves Fin’s life by hauling him into a temporary shelter.  The next morning when they emerge from the cave, their eyes cannot believe what they see – the loch has been completely drained and is just a huge muddy hole.  Even more strange is that in that muddy hole where the loch was is a light aircraft that went missing 17 years ago, along with the skeletal remains of Fin’s friend, Roddy MacKenzie.  A natural weather phenomenon explains where the water from the loch went during the storm, however, the reasons why Roddy MacKenzie and his plane are at the bottom of the loch is another matter.

I have really enjoyed reading this trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides.  I thought they were well written and that there was really good character development, especially with Fin MacLeod.  I recommend anyone picking up this series if you like mystery and atmospheric reads.

Book Review – The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Hal (Harriet) Westaway is broke and alone living in Brighton where her mother was killed in a hit and run shortly before Hal’s eighteenth birthday.  She ekes out a poverty level salary as a tarot card reader at the pier and cannot get out of the debt that she owes a loan shark.  With imminent danger lurking from threats of physical punishment for not paying the loan shark, she believes she finds salvation when she receives a letter from a solicitor advising that she is about to receive an inheritance from her grandmother’s estate.  The only problem is the deceased, Mrs. Westaway, is not Hal’s grandmother.  Hal knows that it is wrong to continue the charade, however, she is desperate – all her bills have been marked “final” and she is days away from an altercation with the loan shark’s henchmen so she travels to Trepassen House and pretends to be Mrs. Westaway’s granddaughter.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to Ruth Ware’s books.  I have been quite disappointed in two of them but yet really enjoyed The Lying Game so I wasn’t sure what category this one was going to fall into.  I really liked the character of Hal and even though the reader knows that what Hal is doing is wrong, you can’t help but hope that it turns out well for her.  There was a good mystery story to this book and I didn’t figure it out until the end.  This turned out to be a good read for me – 3.5 stars.

Book Review – The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

The Blood Road

This is another edition to the Logan McRae series (I believe number 13).  I always enjoy a book from this series and this one does not disappoint, although the story line was difficult to read at times because the heart of the story ended up being about abducted children being sold to pedophiles.  Regardless, it was a good read for me and I enjoyed the always hilarious Roberta Steel.

Book Review – The Cult on Fog Island by Mariette Lindstein

The Cult on Fog Island

This was a book that was originally published in Sweden and was translated into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

Sophia attends an event where the leader of a new age movement, Franz Oswald, is giving a speech promoting a new life style at his compound on Fog Island.  She is being harassed by an ex-boyfriend and has no ties other than her parents so a girlfriend and her decide to take a day trip out to Fog Island to be a guest at the compound.  Of course, the best face is put on for all guests and it doesn’t take long and Sophia is sucked into the idea of living an idyllic lifestyle.  She is offered a position as the librarian at the compound with her first job being to get a library set up so that the residents can start using it and she accepts.

Shortly after Sophia moves to Fog Island, things start to change at the compound.  First, all electronics including cell phones and laptops are to be turned in, outgoing mail is monitored and censored, and electric fences around the perimeter are installed.  By the time that Sophia realizes that she has made a drastic error in judgement in coming to Fog Island, it is too late.

I enjoyed this book and gave it 3.5 stars.  I liked the writing style and the pace kept me interested in the book.  I found it very interesting that the author was a Scientologist and had joined the organization at the age of 20 and worked there for 25 years.  In the afterward, she remarks about how easily it is to get caught up in a cult but that it is never too late to get out so it sounds like this book was written from a voice of experience.

 

Book Review – The Watcher by Caroline Eriksson (translated by Tara F. Chace)

The Watcher

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

Elena has separated from her husband and takes a short term townhouse rental to allow her time to decide what she wants to do with respect to her marriage.  She is an author but has been suffering from writer’s block.  Instead of working on a new novel, she begins to watch her neighbors through the kitchen window and she believes that something is terribly wrong with them.  This is another unreliable narrator plot but unfortunately it really wasn’t my kind of book.  This may appeal to readers who really enjoy unreliable narrators/story lines.