Review: The False Friend

The False Friend
The False Friend by Myla Goldberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I couldn’t figure out if I loved this book or hated it. I disliked the main character but felt immensely sorry for her. I kind of wanted to punch her in the face several times in the course of the book.

Celia Durst is in her thirties and walking into work when she is assailed by an emerging childhood memory of the disappearance of her best friend Djuna Pearson. Djuna was abducted when the girls were eleven years old, taken while they were with three other girls walking in the woods. Celia saw Djuna get into a brown car and nobody ever saw her again.

But the memory Celia has is an entirely different vision of Djuna’s disappearance. She is shaken to her core and travels back to her hometown to tell the truth. In the course of trying to get someone, anyone, to believe her, she learns that not only her memory of Djuna’s disappearance is faulty, but her memory of what kind of person she was and how wrong people were about her.

In uncovering how cruel and malicious she and Djuna had been to their friends, Celia has to face a terrible truth about herself while trying to figure out which version of Djuna’s disappearance is true and which is a lie. By the end, even Celia is unsure.



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Review: Mariette in Ecstasy

Mariette in Ecstasy
Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Weird and fascinating look at a postulant in a convent in 1906, who is convinced she is seeing visions and hearing the voice of Christ. The other nuns are divided: some adore her, others suspect her of fraud. Stigmata, holy visions, ecstasies and piety – what some consider saintly virtues others take as affrontery. The book doesn’t so much explore Mariette’s situation as it does the affect it has on those around her.

Beautifully, gorgeously written. Unsettling. And ultimately, you’re left to decide: is she, or isn’t she telling the truth?




Review: The Lie

The Lie
The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book built up a complicated story and some great suspense throughout the first half of the book, and then the convoluted plot lost me about 75% in and I just wanted to find out what happened.

Susanne gets off an elevator at a building where she is to have a job interview and walking down the hall is a woman who could be her identical twin. They look exactly alike, other than different hair styles and different clothes and grooming.

In the weeks to follow, Susanne is approached by Nadia, the woman who looks so much like her. Nadia has a proposal. Be her double, take her place at home while she runs off for an occasional weekend with a man with whom she’s having an affair. Nadia and her husband don’t get along very well so their interaction should be brief, if at all. It’s just to provide Nadia with an alibi, and Susanne with desperately needed money, as she’s been unemployed.

Things go smoothly at first, then become more and more bizarre, especially when Susanne develops feelings for Nadia’s husband, and then when it turns out that there’s more to Nadia’s weekends away than first appeared. Soon, Susanne finds herself involved in a terrible case of more than just mistaken identity – there is embezzlement, fraud, extortion and blackmail, and then Susanne’s very life is in danger.

This book had a great premise and parts of it really drew me in. But there were so many extra characters toward the end, I got lost and the story hit a weird and clumsy tone toward the end. Either way, it was a fascinating read, decently written (translated from German) and a good distraction on a grey winter weekend.



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Review: The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Doctor Faraday sets up his medical practice in the British village of Lidcote in the late 1940s, he’s back at home in the place where his parents raised him. His mother was a maid at a local estate, called Hundreds Hall. He has memories of visiting there with her one year for a garden party and has always had a soft spot for it.

Years later, as a doctor, he has occasion to go back to Hundreds Hall on a medical call. The family who have owned it for generations, the Ayres, have fallen on hard times. Back when Faraday was a child, the Ayres’ only child, daughter Susan, died of diptheria. The two children they had after that are now grown and live there with their aging mother, their father having died years before.

Dr. Faraday is dismayed at the dilapidation of the estate, but still has a fondness for the place. He develops a friendship with the family, becoming especially close with Caroline, the 26-year-old daughter. But as time passes, he learns about the strange and increasingly incomprehensible happenings in the house. First from the maid, then from Caroline’s brother, then from their mother and from Caroline herself. As he grows closer to the family, more terrible things happen and he seems to be the only one who doesn’t believe the house is haunted.

This book started off nicely and the writing was good throughout. I felt like the author did a good job of character development and the plot had a nice suspense build-up. But for some reason, it left me disappointed – I’m not even sure why. Deliciously creepy in parts, the book had other spots that seemed barren and dull. It’s hard to explain, other than to say it was less satisfying than I would have imagined, but better written than most of this genre.


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Review: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President
I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Funny and weird and appealing. I didn’t like the main character but I was rooting for him all the same. Narrated by a megalomaniacal 12 year old who pretends to be stupid but actually runs an underground empire where he almost rules the world. But to gain the approval of his (stupid hippie) father, he decides to win the eighth grade student council election at Gale Sayers middle school in Omaha, Nebraska.

Once I let the character sound like a middle-school version of “The Family Guy’s” Stewie Griffin, the character settled into his pitch for me.

The book grew on me. Weird but engaging.


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Review: Silver Sparrow

Silver Sparrow
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Browsing through the books available on eReader from our public library has revealed some books to me I might not have otherwise chosen. This book was one of them. The first line grabbed me: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.”

Set in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s, the story is told first from the point of view of Dana Lynn Yarboro, who is the secret child of James Witherspoon’s second, secret, wife. She knows there is a “legitimate” Mrs. Witherspoon, and that there is Chaurisse, her father’s “legitimate” daughter. Dana and her mother, Gwen, are kept in the shadows.

But Dana begins to scope out her competition and is determined to form a relationship with her half sister.

This book has richly drawn characters and the tension builds almost unbearably. Halfway through, perspective changes to Chaurisse’s point of view, and the author does an amazing job of bringing sympathy to characters the reader only considers antagonists in the first half.

I was not prepared to like this book, but came to love all the characters.


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Review: Sh*t My Dad Says

Shit My Dad Says
Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this book was hilarious – so much of what the writer’s father says reminds me of the dad of a good friend of ours, who used to tell his son and my husband “Stop playing grab-ass and get outside, goddammit!”

Beneath the veneer of sarcasm and poking fun at his dad, Halpern shows a soft spot for his old dad, a doctor who came from an impoverished family and made a better life for his wife and three sons.

I loved the sections with short topic headings and the quotes beneath them. For instance: ON BOB SAGET’S DEMEANOR WHILE HOSTING AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS: “Remember that face. That’s the face of a man who hates himself.”

My favorite was this: ON WHETHER TO VOTE FOR GEORGE W BUSH OR AL GORE: “Gore seems kind of a pompous prick, but every time I see Bush I feel like he’s probably shit his pants in the last year, and it’s something he worries about.”

The book is full of profanity-laced bon mots like this, but the undercurrent of his father’s character and circumstances is great. Near the end of the book, Halpern finds out more about his dad that helps shed light on his personality and shows that he’s more than a hard-edged pop who doesn’t care that the tasty snack he’s been eating turned out to be Snausages dog treats.

Sh*t My Dad Says was one of the most enjoyable books I read all year, right up there with Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” And that, my friends, is saying something.


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