BOOK REVIEWS

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW BY AMOR TOWLES

I have taken some time between when I finished this spectacular book and writing this review.
Sometimes when I read a unique book such as this one was, I have a really hard time reviewing it. I feel I don’t have the words to describe what a fantastic book 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

 it really is but I shall give it a try here.

It is 1922 and the Bolsheviks have taken over power in Russia and have abolished all ruling classes. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been stripped of his title and placed under house arrest at his place of residence, The Metropol Hotel. He is doomed to spend the rest of his days, not in his luxurious Suite 37, but in a cramped attic room. If he should step outside the hotel at any time, he will be shot dead. The Count is a true gentleman who approaches this sentence with a good attitude. He commences making friends with the staff of the hotel and the guests.

He makes the best of the fact that all of his possessions, as well as his title, have been taken from him. First, he meets a precocious nine-year-old girl, Nina, and forms a lasting friendship with her. He accompanies her on her journeys throughout the hotel and, since she has acquired a passkey to all the rooms, nearly every nook and cranny is explored.

The author created a fascinating cast of characters, one of which is Nina’s daughter, Sofia, who ultimately ends up in his care and rears as he would his own daughter. There are many others that the reader will get to know throughout this wonderful book. And I defy anyone not to feel as if they are a part of the admiration society for the Count. As a matter of fact, I fell a little in love with him.

There are humorous shenanigans in this book that left me laughing out loud. And at other times, I almost cried.

You can view an interview with Amor Towles on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdEOS…

Amor Towles has created an outstanding novel here. I have purchased Rules of Civility. If it is a fraction as well written as ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’, it will be exceptional.

About the Author

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for over twenty years, he now devotes himself fulltime to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film and its French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Louis Dispatch, and NPR. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages.

Mr. Towles, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children, is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, obsolete accessories, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

BOOK REVIEWS

NOTHING TO SEE HERE BY KEVIN WILSON

Today, I am reviewing “Nothing To See Here” by Kevin Wilson.

A quote from the book that describes Lillian’s thoughts as she enters the elite preparatory school for the first time:
As I walked to my dorm, I realized that the other girls didn’t even look at me, and I could tell that it wasn’t out of meanness. I don’t think they even saw me; their eyes had been trained since birth to recognize the importance. I wasn’t that.”

My Thoughts:

I liked this book so much more than I expected to. I tried to read “Ready, Player One” but it just wasn’t for me. So, Netgalley has sent me “Nothing To See Here” by Kevin Wilson. I decided to read that one in its place, and I’m so glad I did. This book made me feel good, sad, angry, and frustrated.

The Main Characters:
We have Madison – Privileged child growing up and wealthy woman by any standards through her marriage to Senator Jasper Roberts.

Then we have Madison’s husband Jasper. He would prefer, of course, to be addressed as, Senator Roberts??? Jasper is in the midst of being vetted for a high political office. He is married to Madison and they have one son, Timothy.

Then we come to the protagonist, Lillian. Lillian is an impoverished child who grew up without wealth or affection. As she reaches adulthood, things haven’t changed much. She is working as a cashier at two different grocery stores and living in her mom’s attic.

I would be remiss in failing to mention Carl. He’s a jack of all trades for the Senator. He runs errands and basically does whatever he is called on to do. This includes babysitting at times.

Then we have the twins, Bessie and Roland. Ten years old and children of Jasper and the late Jane who committed suicide. Oh yes, one important thing about Bessie and Roland is that when angered or upset, they spontaneously combust. They are unharmed but the fire is read. Yes, you read that right.

Lillian and Madison, best friends in high school until Lillian leaves abruptly after a scandal ensues. They have not communicated much past an email or text message now and again in the past 15 years.
Lillian receives a letter from Madison asking for help in a very delicate situation in the form of a job. She sends money for a bus ticket to her home. Lillian boards a bus and arrives at the Senator’s mansion. The “job” is acting as governess to Jasper’s twins who are now his responsibility since their mother’s death. Lillian accepts, after all how hard could it be? Lillian and the twins are housed in an elaborate “guest cottage” on the huge estate.

After they are settled into the guest house, several incidents take place that are, at the least, disturbing. I loved the way Lillian interacted with the twins and the steps she took to make their life as normal as possible including homeschooling them. The children loved her. But alas, another incident occurs and the result of that is Lillian fleeing with the children to her mother’s attic.

This story is wonderful. I wish there was a sequel to this book to find out what everyone is doing today. If there ever is one, I will be first in line to buy it. Highly recommended as an easy read and positive subject matter.

SOMETHING EXTRA
I happened upon a video talking about Nothing To See Here on YouTube. Check it out, it’s awesome.

About the Author

Kevin Wilson, Author

Kevin Wilson was born, raised, and still lives in Tennessee. His writing has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Greensboro Review, The Oxford American, Carolina Quarterly and elsewhere. His work has twice been included in the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology (2005, 2006). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Florida, he currently teaches fiction at the University of the South and helps run the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

BOOK REVIEWS, YA BOOKS

THE NIGHT THAT OLIVIA FELL BY CHRISTINA MCDONALD

Publishing Information from Amazon.com

  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 5, 2019)
  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English

SYNOPSIS FROM GOODREADS

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother ever wants to get: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heart wrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: how well do you know your children? And how well do they know you? 

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My Thoughts

When I first saw this book, I knew it would be an easy read with a little mystery in it. I didn’t realize it was a YA book. I should research more carefully in the future. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a terrible book and I’m sure that middle school and high school age children would eat it up. But for me, not so good.

The book centers around a 16-year-old high school girl named Olivia who has a terrible “accident”. Or, is something more sinister at the root of her fall? Her mother Abi, an overprotective single mother who adores her daughter and keeps a tight rein on her.

Olivia has a BFF, Madison, a boyfriend, Tyler. Madison has been a friend since they were small children and Tyler is, of course the handsome but shallow captain of the football team.

I could go into great detail about all the characters and the twists and turns this book made, but I will let you read it for yourself.

All of this is quite predictable and I had no problem figuring out how it would end. Like I stated above, it was not a terrible book, but pretty lightweight. I didn’t research it or read reviews.

The book has some redeeming features that will be evident toward the end. If you like YA books or have a teenage daughter or son that is a reader, this is a perfect book for them.

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About the Author

Christina McDonald

Christina McDonald is the USA Today bestselling author of The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio. Her next book, Behind Every Lie, is out Feb 2020. Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times, Dublin, USAToday.com, and Expedia. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway, and now lives in London, England with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango.

BOOK REVIEWS, HISTORICAL FICTION

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON BY SARA COLLINS

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON
BY SARA COLLINS

Title: The Confessions of Frannie Langton
Author: Sara Collins
Publisher: Harper – May 21, 2019…….375 Pages

FROM THE BACK COVER
No one knows the worst thing they’re capable of until they do it . . .
“All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, who is accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being held in the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore. Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, or how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood, even if remembering could save her life.

But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.
Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut, a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.”

THE STORY

The book opens at Newcastle Prison in London, England, where Frannie Langton is on trial for the premeditated murders of her Master and Mistress, George and Marguerite Benham. She faces the death penalty. Frannie maintains she has no memory of the incident.

Frannie has been taught to read and write by Langton in order that she could help him with his scientific “experiments”. She was educated, which was rare for a woman of color in that day and age. She longed to write; and, while awaiting her fate in prison she wrote her memoir.
Frannie begins her memoir from her childhood in Jamaica to her arrival in London. She chronicles her years as a slave in Jamaica and the “scientific” atrocities she was forced to be witness and participate in while she was there. Langton, her master in Jamaica, was working with another very well known and respected scientist. They were working on the same project. I shall not, at this point, reveal the subject of these experiments. I will let you read this book if you have a mind to. Trust me when I say, they are macabre & frankly sickening.

Langton subsequently offers to gift Frannie to the more well-known scientist, Benham and they travel to London. Upon arriving, Frannie works as a servant under the supervision of the house manager, who hates her. However, shortly after arriving, she has caught the eye of Marguerite Benham, Meg as her friends refer to her and becomes Meg’s lady maid. The two of them become extremely close friends much to the chagrin of the house manager and the Master George Benham. Frannie tends to Meg’s every need. And I want to stress “every need”.

I’m going to stop here so as not to post any spoilers. Anymore detail would be an injustice to future readers of this magnificent book It’s a must-read book and you will not be disappointed.

MY THOUGHTS

This wonderful book not only addresses the subject of slavery in both Jamaica and England, but also it brought to my mind the prejudice that is still in existence today targeting anyone who is “different”.

I was born and reared in Louisiana. I now reside in Arizona. I am also of the advanced age that I remember segregation very well. Not only in our schools but on public transportation. They had to go to the back of the bus. Also at the lunch counters, restrooms and water fountains. The list goes on and on. I had children that I did my best to dissuade from that kind of attitude in which I was saturated as a child. I think I did a pretty good job. Those children now have children of their own who have also been taught that prejudice is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Far be it for me to suggest that this attitude does not exist today. Sadly, it does. We can only hope that through education and the instruction of tolerance, we have hope for a better tomorrow.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent. She studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years before doing a Master of Studies in Creative Writing at Cambridge University, where she was the recipient of the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize for Creative Writing. She lives in London, England. The Confessions of Frannie Langton is her debut novel, and was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Prize.

BOOK REVIEWS

29 Seconds – T.M. Logan

What would you do if someone, a complete stranger, offered to make one person of your choice disappear forever, with absolutely nothing to tie you to the disappearance? I, of course, as most people would answer a resounding “no way”. You could not do such a thing. 

Don’t be too sure. This book takes you into the mind and life of Sarah, a contracted, temporary professor at a university with an absent husband and children. Sarah is almost sure, to be offered a permanent tenured position at the university. But, there’s one hitch, her womanizing, sleazy boss, Alan, is a superstar at this university. He has two sides. One is cordial, professional and intelligent, a star fundraiser. The other is misogynistic, execrable and just plain sleazy. His reputation is known well by the women at the university. 

Now, I, along with thousands of other women have had to endure the obnoxious men that talked inappropriately, touched inappropriately and sometimes propositioned us. However, Sara’s boss, Alan also holds the key to her future, whether she continues as a contracted professor, loses her job completely, or whether she realizes her dream of advancing at the university. 

A chance encounter with a would-be kidnapper of a child manages to bring her to the attention of the intended victim’s father. An ultra-wealthy “business” man with somewhat shady dealings. As a way to pay her back, this man offers her the chance of a lifetime, to get rid of her detestable boss. 
As the story unfolds, it develops into a fascinating psychological thriller. I didn’t see the ending coming. I have given it 5 ***** due to the fact that I always seem to figure out the endings and this time I didn’t. Also, because it was beautifully written with great suspense.

Wow, what a book. A page-turner for me. I have had “Lies” by T.M. Logan on my Kindle app for a long time. I will now move it up near the top. If it’s half as good as “29 Seconds” I will love it. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Netgalley and the Author T.M. Logan for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Bestselling author TM Logan was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. His debut thriller LIES was one of Amazon UK’s biggest ebooks of 2017, selling 350,000 copies and gathering more than 1,400 5-star reviews so far. It was published in the USA in September 2018 and has also come out in South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and the Netherlands.

His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, is a psychological thriller set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. What if someone offered you a solution to the biggest problem in your life – would you take it, if you knew you’d never be found out? Even if you knew it was wrong? What if a 29-second phone call could change your life forever?

BOOK REVIEWS

The Fish That Climbed A Tree – Kevin Ansbro

I have had nothing on my mind but this book since I finished it last week. I’ve waited to write a review until now because I wanted to give the book all that it deserved. I loved this book. Five gigantic *! As I see it, it is a book about good at the extreme and bad at its worst.

First the good. The Reverend Ulysses Drummond had been appointed vicar of St Cuthbert’s Chuch in the London borough of Hackney. He and his wife, Florence lived quietly and only wanted to help everyone.

Henry Drummond is Ulysses’ and Florence’s 10-year-old son. On Henry’s 10th birthday, his Mother and Father are brutally murdered in the vicarage while Henry was at school. Henry is a most peculiar child in that he had an old-fashioned air about him. He was an avid reader and was the butt of the other children’s bullying. He was basically friendless while going through school.

Now the bad. Pascal Makuza had escaped Rwanda and arrived in London after a very dangerous trip. The Hutu death squad that he had been forced to join had sliced off his upper lip and fed it to a dog. Therefore, his appearance was somewhat that of a skeleton.

He was mentored by Yuri Voloshyn a Ukrainian who remains unpunished for his many crimes, including rape and murder in Odessa. Henry vowed to his only friend, Bertie, to hunt the men down and see that they are punished for the murder of his mother and father.

In the meantime, Ulysses and his wife are somewhere between earth and paradise. Now being raised as a Catholic, I imagined this is what purgatory would be like. Ulysses and Florence were having an argument. Florence wanted to go toward the light and enjoy paradise and Ulysses wanted to stay where he was so that he can watch over his son Henry. Florence stayed a while but then decided she would follow the light and go on to paradise hoping that Ulysses would soon follow.

There are other characters in this book, developed beautifully by Kevin. Much happens to Henry and I absolutely could not put it down. You have good, evil, love, and humor.

Who the characters are; does good overpower bad are all questions that I will leave unanswered. All that I can say is READ. THIS. BOOK. You will not be disappointed.

I have downloaded the other two books authored by my good friend on Goodreads, Kevin Ansbro, and intend to read them both in the near future. Kevin, thank you for writing this wonderful book.

Kevin Ansbro was born of Irish parents, and has lived in Malaysia and Germany:
He was educated at Hamond’s Grammar School in Swaffham, and at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology, King’s Lynn.
Kevin also has a background in karate and kickboxing and has travelled extensively – particularly in the Far East.
He is married to Julie, and currently lives in Norwich, England.

Right, enough about me: my books are way more interesting.
http://www.kevinansbro.co.uk

BOOK REVIEWS

The Need – Helen Phillips

I really thought I would like this book.  I expected to like this book.  Why didn’t I?

The main reason was I didn’t know what the heck was going on for about 85% of it.  Mol/Molly clearly is flawed.  She has two precious children, Viv who is 4 years old and Ben who is a baby.  Ms. Phillips simply wore me out with the lactating references in almost every short chapter.  I didn’t see the need.  Okay, you have a baby, who is walking BTW, and you’re a proponent of breastfeeding.  Hip, hip, hooray for you. 

The first 15% of the book was good.  After that, it simply fell to pieces.  I felt absolutely no kinship or affection for any of the characters, largely because they were never really developed.  And the ending, Ugh!! I have whiplash it ended so abruptly.  So, the question remained in my mind was Molly simply insane, was she dead, were the children dead, did the elusive husband, David even exist.  I never figured it out.  Big letdown. 

I do, however, want to thank Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Helen Phillips is the author of five books, including, most recently, the novel THE NEED. Her collection SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection AND YET THEY WERE HAPPY was named a Notable Book by the Story Prize. She is also the author of the children’s adventure novel HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN. Helen is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Italo Calvino Prize, among others. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Tin House, and on Selected Shorts. She is an associate professor at Brooklyn College. http://www.helencphillips.com.