Tag Archives: romance

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

We have the technology to create designer babies. Whether this is a desirable capability or the theme for a horror movie remains to be seen, but the ability exists to manipulate genes to result in certain predetermined outcomes.

In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult creates a morally questionable scenario where little sister Anna Fitzgerald is conceived to provide the stem cells necessary to extend the life of older sister Kate, a victim of leukemia. Unfortunately, the stem cells turn out to be a stop gap measure and increasingly invasive procedures, such as the donation of bone marrow, are necessary to sustain her older sibling’s life. Their mother Sara is desperate enough to do anything to keep Kate alive, hoping each treatment will be the one to conquer the disease.

Anna truly loves her sister, but there’s a bit of resentment since her life revolves around Kate’s needs without any regards towards her own personal thoughts and desires. Now Kate needs a kidney and there is an expectation that Anna will once again step up to the plate – after all, isn’t that her “raison d’être”.  For once, Anna would like some control over her own body. Being only thirteen who has the final say? When does a child get to say “no more” even when her parents say “let’s do it”?

Having an ill child requiring the majority of a parents’ attention can be wearing on all members of the family. Anna isn’t the only one who feels neglected, the oldest sibling, a brother Jesse, seems like a lost cause, acting out in rebellion, usually in antisocial ways. Siblings of families I know who have a child with very specific needs often have issues coping with life. Much of what  Picoult describes rings true, yet there is quite a bit of over-the-top sensationalizing which is guaranteed to mess with ones emotions. This is one story that readily lended itself to a movie format where they added enough additional drama/trauma to hone the viewers  emotions to a frenzy. (By the same title released in 2009 starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack.)

Picoult is an expert at developing her characters, including a secondary story line involving a lawyer and his former love interest. I especially enjoyed the special relationship Anna had with her fire fighting father Brian who was caught in the middle between his love for all the players in his family.

I remember a similar scenario when in-vitro fertilization was new where a mother had a “genetically altered” child specifically to be a donor to her first born who needed “parts”. I was a new mother at the time and was conflicted. Society was horrified, yet I couldn’t condemn this decision, especially since my mantra is: “There but for the grace of God go I”!  Since then the use of fertilized eggs implanted in women who otherwise would be unable to have a child has been a godsend to so many, including my own daughter. I no longer have a negative viewpoint, but count my blessings on the miracles of science every time I hold my grandson.

Four and a half stars in spite of the tears I shed and an ending which felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. Even though I own a hard copy, I listened to this one performed by a large cast of characters:
Read by:
Julia Gibson
Jennifer Ikeda
Richard Poe
Carol Monda
Tom Stechchulte
Andy Paris
Barbara McCulloh

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The question is: How accurate does an author have to be when writing an historical novel? If it’s fiction shouldn’t they be allowed to take some poetic license, otherwise the book would be more in the nonfiction realm. Well then, do certain topics require a heavier touch? Perhaps books covering more recent history need to be a little more accurate than most so as not to offend those who have lived through those events. (The Cellist from the novel The Cellist of Sarajevo had some harsh works for the author Steve Galloway for adding his own twist to this real life occurrence). What about The Holocaust? While the survivors are quickly reaching the end of their lives, places such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum maintain vast records documenting the details surrounding the Nazi concentration camps. They are obsessed about the truth and find offense in inaccuracies which they fear will be fodder for those who believe the Holocaust was a hoax.
Heather Morris had the opportunity to meet Lali Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who while imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942 was forced to tattoo numbers onto the arms of thousands of incoming prisoners. At the age of 87, Lali was looking for someone to record his story and what an incredible tale he had to tell. Over a period of three years Morris met with the Holocaust survivor taking extensive notes. After his death in 2006, she created a screen play based on her interviews, but she eventually revised her efforts and published a fiction novel entitled The Tattooist of Auschwitz, changing a few of the details to dramatize the story. Based on this publication, Lali’s story is in the process of becoming a miniseries (although written by Jacquelin Perske and not Morris) with an air date sometime in January 2020 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz (consisting of Auschwitz and its sub-camps, Birkenau and Monowitz) was the only death camp where the prisoners were tattooed, using a series of numbers and sometimes letters to identify not just the captive but the circumstances which led them to be imprisoned. The Tattooist of Auschwitz centers on the charismatic and plucky Lale whose adeptness at five + languages resulted in the “privilege” of being selected as the concentration camp tattooist with all the “perks” which accompanied that position. With sleeping and eating arrangements far superior to those of the other captives, Lale had a better chance of survival. However, by “cooperating” with the enemy, even if under the threat of death for disobeying orders, he feared retribution from the other inhabitants of the camp whose situations were so much more untenable. The reality was that his loyalties remained with his “friends” and he regularly slipped extra rations to those in need. Through ingenuity, chutzpah, and luck, Lale found a way to acquire and distribute contraband allowing some relief from the constant hunger endured by the prisoners. Ultimately this book takes a romantic turn when Lale meets the love of his life, Gita, inspiring a determination that the two of them would survive this ordeal despite the numerous obstacles which stood in the way of them achieving this seemingly impossible dream.
So what is the uproar about the lack of authenticity all about?  Morris, living in Australia, made the mistake of claiming this book was thoroughly researched and 95% accurate, a claim she had to walk back when some glaring recognizable errors as well as a host of logistical inaccuracies were revealed. This raised the hackles of The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum who felt that since the book was based on an actual survivor of the holocaust, the author had a greater responsibility when presenting this story to the world.
Morris responded that she would leave the facts to the historians and the  museum decided to treat the novel as “an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document”,  which is just fine for the majority of readers who responded positively to this book. Of interest is the comment made by Heather Morris stating that Lali applauded the idea that she was not Jewish, wanting someone with a clean slate to portray his traumatic tale, an opportunity she used to create her debut novel.
While I was annoyed at some of the bigger gaffs (such as Lale obtaining the unavailable penicillin on the black market to treat Typhus when PABA was the accepted treatment at the time), it was the actual writing style which disappointed me. I also felt there should have been more depth in the characterizations and that certain events could have been more fully explored in the plot line. Written in the present tense, this novel reflects the fact that the original intent was to present a screenplay, not a book. Which is not to say that this story isn’t worth reading, it’s just that I expected more.
Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Bonner Publishjng Australia for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Lady is Daring by Megan Frampton (Duke’s Daughters series, Book 3)

Lord Carson (Bennett), heir to the Marquis of Wheatly, has avoided matrimony twice, both times to daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Marymount. In the first book of Megan Frampton’s Duke’s Daughter series, Lady Be Bad, Lady Eleanor ends up marrying Bennett’s younger brother Alexander and in the second book it’s his best friend who winds up with one of the other sisters, Lady Olivia. It seems three times the charm in The Lady is Daring when the Marquis urges his son to woo one of the remaining two siblings since he needs money to support his extravagant lifestyle. Bennett, who spends his days running the estate and his evenings trying to find investors for his business ventures, doesn’t have the time or inclination for an arranged marriage to benefit his dad’s other family – a mistress and their two children. Lord Carson’s disdain for his father is matched by his love and devotion for his invalid mother who only wants what is best for her son.

Then one night, Bennett’s life takes a turn when he has a bit too much to drink and somehow believes it’s a good idea to take a nap in an empty carriage.

In the meantime, Lady Ida, youngest daughter of the Duke, has decided to steal this very carriage so she can “rescue” her wayward sister who ran away with their dancing instructor and was now ostracized from society. This headstrong, singleminded plan of Ida is yet another example of the rash behavior of an adventuress who is more inclined to follow her own interests instead of the strictures of The Ton. She disdains the entire idea of matrimony since, after all, who would want to marry someone like her who is more concerned with topics such as gas lighting instead of more lady-like pursuits such as embroidery?

Unfortunately, Lord Carson refuses to allow Lady Ida to proceed without his protection, disrupting her plans. He reasons that since she is the sister of his brother’s wife, he can’t very well leave her to fend for herself. The two disparate personalities somehow find a commonality and a romance is inevitable as they deal with the numerous obstacles which they encounter on their quest. Bennett even finds Ida’s obsession with the mating habits of hedge hogs endearing.

The Lady is Daring was takes place in 1846 making it a Victorian Romance. Don’t look for historical accuracy, or for that manner common sense, in this “traveling” comedy of errors. However, if you are looking for a fun, quick read with some steamy love scenes, this book is for you.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

People Hate People by Ellen Hopkins

At a time when hate has become a common occurrence where children are being held in detention centers while their parents are deported or bombs are being sent through the mail to high profile individuals or a synagogue has become the target of gunfire during a religious ceremony, these events, whether sanctioned or not, are the result of mistrust and resentment towards those who are not considered a part of main stream society. Nationalism (versus Patriotism), a part of the Make America Great Again Community, has become an accepted way of life for too many in the United States to the point where some individuals feel justified in acting out their feelings of hatred towards those they resent – for whatever reason.

Ellen Hopkins uses this darkness as the theme for her newest YA novel People Kill People. In her introduction she decries the rise of gun violence in this country and attempts to explore the reasons why someone might pick up a gun with the intent to do harm. Her unique style of combining freestyle poetry and introspective narratives introduces the reader to a group of struggling teenagers whose lives intersect through their reactions to their individual situations. Each faces varying issues, some dire others seemingly innocuous, but all internalized and possibly life changing.

We have seventeen year old Grace; her homeless boyfriend Daniel; Daniel’s half brother Tim, a skinhead; and Tim’s good friend Silas who is stalking Grace but finds solace in Tim’s cousin, the badass Ashlyn; Grace’s sister Cami who is a teen bride married to Rand with a two year old son Waylon; and Grace’s former best friend Noelle who was seriously injured in a car accident as a result of the shooting which killed Grace’s father. Their interactions create a story which ultimately leads to a shameful calamity.

I personally found this book difficult to read. The details were so tragic, the choices at times devastating, the introspections so negative I was left with a depressed view towards life, grateful that my own trials seemed trivial by comparison. This is definitely not a PG book since the dark subject matter  includes violence, sex, and numerous deplorable activities. Yet these subjects, while fictional, are based on real life events which occur too often in society, so I suppose they need to be addressed and discussed by the upcoming generation if attitudes have any hope of changing for the better.

Hopkins unique style provides smooth transitions as we “Slip into” each character’s skin and then “Fade out”,  helping us understand the motivations behind each of their choices.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Witch Elm by Tanya French

I fear Tana French must be clairvoyant. While her new stand alone novel, The Witch Elm, was being released here in the United States we were in the process of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice whose life parallels that of the main protagonist Toby.

Toby has been living the life of a privileged white male – popular at the Private High School he attended, good in sports with plenty of friends plus supportive parents; a man whose life has fallen into place, including a great job and a loving girlfriend who he’s crazy about (to the point where he’s thinking about hearth and home), when “BOOM” his life explodes with his past, including events which occurred when he was seventeen, coming back to haunt him and threatening to change his life forever.

Of concern is a bunch of distorted truths which if not illegal are definitely immoral, that were possibly behind the burglary which resulted in an injury that permanently affected Toby’s physical and mental health. While trying to put his life back together, a skull is discovered in the backyard of his favorite uncle’s home which leads to a murder investigation where Toby is one of the prime suspects. Complicating it all is his TBI which has blacked out his memories of the details of his teen years.

Of course, this is a fictional tale, not real life, although a news report about an unsolved English mystery involving a skull found inside a Wych Elm in 1943 was the original inspiration behind this story.

The question the reader must ask is if the inherent luck imbedded in our “hero” can get him through the muck and mire which has been thrown in his path. Some might think this smug, SOB deserves all the crap he is forced to endure, others will be more sympathetic since he has worked hard to earn the happiness which now eludes him. Ultimately, while we might believe what goes around, comes around, in truth, some of us fall into a vat of excrement and come out smelling like a rose. Well, maybe not a floral scent, but at least not a putrid odor.

French’s talent lies in her character development as we fall in love with Uncle Hugo and the family homestead complete with Sunday Dinners. Toby’s parents are the best and his two cousins, all only children, bond like siblings (and squabble like brothers and sister). The best friends hover in the background, included in the action since they were a part of those early years. All that’s left is to figure out exactly what happened and whodunit, which an obnoxious detective methodically sets out to discover.

It takes a third of the book to get to the murder, another third of the book to find out the guilty culprit, with the last third adding in some twists and turns. The Witch Elm was a steady read with a breezy style, although I did think it dragged a little in spots, but perhaps that’s because I wanted French to get to the point a little quicker so I could see if my suspicions were correct. I have to admit, there were numerous details I did not see coming.

While this story takes place in Ireland, it could easily be transplanted to any town in the United States.

All I can say is I hope our new Supreme Court Justice fares better than Toby and that recent events do not come back to bite us all in the butt.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson

The Duke of Alban, close friends of the King and Queen, is devastated to witness His Majesty losing his mind plus hanging out with the aimless Prinny has become such a bore. In need of a change of scenery, he decides to visit his Hunting Box in Swaledale and reconnect with his beloved Aunt Eliza who has a home on his Yorkshire property. The last time he had been with his aunt was to find comfort and heal after the betrayal of his wife who had not only run off with a courtier but drowned in a freak accident off the coast of Italy shortly thereafter.

Since Autumn was a good time for hunting, Alban decides to invite along the down-in-the-dumps Bartholomew Norton, a close boyhood friend who could also use some time away. Suddenly the group grows to four with the pushy Earl of Orkenay and the unfamiliar Sir John Fitzhenry, a young baronet, tagging along ready for a house party.

The Duke is in for a surprise when his discovers his aunt has become blind and Kitty Douglas, her companion, is not some old biddy, but a lovely young widow whose deceased husband had gambled away their funds forcing her to seek gentile employment. There’s an instant attraction, but the class barriers get in the way of any meaningful relationship. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a flirtation. Luckily, the forward thinking Lady Rebecca DeVere Severn and reticent Hannah Billings, two of Kitty’s friends, both widows, are also visiting, which is an extra inducement for the men to spend time at his aunt’s house.

Everyone pairs up, with Kitty having the attention of both the Duke and the Earl. While their compliments are flattering, the Earl’s attempts at seduction leave her cold, but an accidental touch from the Duke gets her juices flowing. From his letters to Aunt Eliza, Kitty has imagined the man of her dreams, but in person the two are at constant odds despite their mutual attraction. Neither gentleman has marriage in mind, but Kitty is not interested in a transient relationship. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings are inevitable before true love is revealed.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson was originally published in 2004 as The Duke and Mrs Douglas. Too bad the author didn’t take this opportunity to review her work and do some editing. While the story seemed interesting at first, it dragged on too long with too much repetition. There just wasn’t enough plot to sustain a full length novel, but it would have made an excellent novella. This is one your grandmother could read since a deep kiss is as graphic as it gets, although, for a Regency Romance, some of the language used in polite company would have been shocking. While Kitty was a naive, albeit likable character, the Duke was an obnoxious, self absorbed man who, in my mind, never quite earned redemption. His only saving grace was his love and solicitude towards his Aunt Eliza, especially since I wasn’t feeling the romance between him and Kitty. I wish the characters had been fleshed out a bit more to make their intentions (since everyone seemed to have an angle) more relatable. The mystery of their actions is briefly revealed towards the end of the book, almost as a throwaway thought. Too many lost opportunities!

Three stars (barely) and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I’d never read a book by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, but his 1992 Man Booker Prize winner, The English Patient, is on my “to read” list, so I thought I’d give his newest novel, Warlight, which is on the long list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, a try.

Part one of the novel deals with the childhood in 1945 London of Nathaniel (Stitch) whose parents abandon him and his sister Rachel (Wren) when they are in their teens and place them in the hands of some somewhat unsavory characters (The Moth and his pal The Darter) who involve them in their nefarious everyday activities. Not that fourteen year old Nathaniel minds. Who wouldn’t want to skip school to drive around to various destinations with a car full of greyhounds or, better yet, steer a boat through the waterways of England to various ports to deliver these same goods – unknown quantities with questionable pedigrees – to compete in underground dog racing? He learns a lot about secrecy, especially concealing his sexual trysts with Agnes, who finds them empty houses for sale listed with her real estate brother – homes bereft of furniture where they can do the deed without being disturbed. Fun times, but living on the edge can be dangerous and the siblings start to wonder where their mother really is (they could care less about their dad) when they discover her trunk, which had been carefully packed in their presence, untouched in the attic still full of her things. She definitely is not in the stated destination of Singapore.

Which leads to Part Two, where Nathanial, fifteen years later, is on a quest to discover the truth about his mum, Rose. Rachel is out of the scene and no one else is around from those forgone times of his youth, so he’s going it alone, surreptitiously searching for evidence at the Intelligence Agency where he works. Nathaniel’s narrative provides details from his teen years as clues into the truth, showing up as he attempts to find some sort of explanation, as the faces and names from his past provide the stepping stones necessary to reconstruct his mother’s days during the war to find the answers he desperately needs in order to move forward with his life.

Reading Warlight is like walking through a murky night getting glimpses of where you are headed but still not quite sure you are going in the right direction. Some of the visualizations are fascinating, but the plot meanders making it difficult to follow, causing the reader to make guesses as to what is actually happening, not daring to ever ask why. The concept of Schwer, part of the secret language between siblings, is ever present, representing the struggles during a post war London reconstructing after the Blitz. Even the occasional ray of sunshine Ondaatje allows to peer through his words does not provide enough light to overcome the dreariness left by the war nor its effects on this family. A thoroughly depressing book which fails to be lifted out of its angst by Nathaniel’s discoveries. However, the entire tale has a haunting effect as compared to most literature which is too often read and forgotten, although it is a complicated, difficult read, not for the casual reader. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.