sextetAs the title implies, Sextet by Judy Jackson is a novel with a cast of six characters with intertwined lives. Living in London are two married couples, one booking agent, and a baby.

This engrossing tale begins with a jolt as a driving instructor crashes into a pedestrian who seemingly came out of nowhere. From there, the story rolls forward unraveling the lives of its main characters: an Italian concert pianist and his pregnant wife, his booking agent, and a hotel decorator and his shopaholic wife.

I found this story engaging and relatable in many ways.  Its main themes are marriage, betrayal, and redemption.  The writing is tight and characters believable.  As in any tragedy, I felt sorry for the people in this book whose lives had spun out of control without their knowledge. I especially enjoyed the way the author chose to end the novel.  In real life situations such as these, when one is heartbroken, forgiveness is difficult, if not impossible to dispense, but Jackson successfully illustrates it can be done.

I recommend this book and am grateful the author contacted me requesting that I review it. I think it is well worth reading.

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Family Fodder

toastBurnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn is a recently published memoir which touched my heart.  In this novel, the Midwestern rooted author shares the stories of her family’s joys and sorrows.  Raised on a rural farm in Michigan, Flinn also reveals recipes of the loving relatives who shaped her life. I laughed and cried as I read this delightful book.  Flinn’s writing style is wonderful!

Writing this review reminds me of pep talks I have had with writing students and friends over the years.  So often we tend to view our lives as nothing out of the ordinary, when in fact, I believe each of us has a unique story worth telling.  Flinn has taken what to some might seem ordinary and made it extraordinary.  I applaud her for doing so and am inspired by her work.

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hundred year house, rebecca makkaiThe Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai is a novel told in reverse. Makkai begins with a cast of characters living in 1999 on a North Shore estate in Lake Forest, IL, which had formerly been an artist community. The story then reverts to previous inhabitants of the house in 1955. The third shift brings the reader to artists living in the estate in 1929. The novel ends with a prologue dated 1900.

I had a very difficult time reading this book. None of the characters were interesting, in fact, they were very confusing, as several were living under assumed names. I struggled through the book solely with hopes of it making sense in the end. I’m sorry to say, for me, it didn’t.

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Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is a novel out of India recently published in em and the big hoompaperback in the U.S. This beautifully written, moving story is told in the first person by the son of a woman who suffers from mental illness. The son’s story is at times humorous, but always with the underlying sadness and confusion which comes when a loved one lives in a skewed reality which can change from one minute to the next.

I really enjoyed the book even though much of it made me sad. In telling the story through the eyes of the young man whose mother is mentally ill, Pinto brings the son’s heartache home to his readers. I highly recommend this book. It is very well-written.

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Who’s on First

cover_map_thiefThe Map Thief by Heather Terrell is a book I have been meaning to read for sometime. It was published in 2008. It is a fictional novel loosely based on actual historical people and events which have been altered to fit the story line.

The subject matter of the story interested me because it revolves around three people, a Chinese eunuch in 1400, a Portuguese map maker in the late 1400’s, and lastly, a young woman in modern times who searches for lost artifacts. The book is based on the supposition that the Chinese navigated the globe long before the Portuguese. The Chinese map which has recently been unearthed and stolen in China provides the proof of this fact. As in any mystery novel, there are good and bad guys and a race to discover the truth. There is an underlying theme of unrequited love; though I didn’t think it lent much to the story as a whole.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel. It took a while for me to get into the it, but all in all, it taught me something about early navigators and the history of China, Portugal and the Catholic Church. The book is not very long and I think it would be a good summer read for those of you who are looking for a mystery to whisk you away to foreign shores while on holiday.

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Fact or Fiction

The Sea of Wise Insects by Terry Westby-Nunn is a novel unlike any I recall having read. cGratefully, it came to my attention by way of one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Alison, who resides in South Africa (despatchesfromtimbuktu.wordpress.com). It was also my good fortune that a local university had a copy of the book.

This is a novel within a novel; a story about a 30-year-old woman named Alice living in South Africa who has recently been charged with culpable homicide for driving a motor vehicle which was in an accident causing the death of one of its occupants. Alice is a vividly written, accident prone woman who has multiple scars, a missing finger, and a loveless existence. To top off her story, there is another story being told in this novel. Interspersed is the recently published novel of Alice’s former lover of two years who left her without a word a few months prior to the fateful automobile accident.

The secondary novel is a fictionalized version of the relationship Alice had with her former fiancée. It seems the former boyfriend was using Alice as food for a character in his fictional novel. As Alice reads the book, we as readers are given the dual perspectives of the people in a failed relationship.

This book contains a great deal of thought provoking wisdom. Thank you Alison in South Africa for sharing this novel with me. I am happy to be able to spread the word from a world away in the U.S. I thought it was wonderful! Hamba Kahle…Go Well


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Art Heroes

warThe Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter is an exceptional history of the valiant men and women whose mission during World War II was to locate and save the countless art treasures looted by the Nazi regime. Perhaps you have seen the movie by the same name, but I highly recommend reading the book as there is so much more to learn and Hollywood has not changed it to suit their purposes.

This story about a brave corps of men and one woman from several countries and walks of life, is truly astounding.  Their selfless contributions to the preservation of civilizations is beyond measure.  I learned a great deal more about the systematic Nazi looting during the war and coupled with the knowledge I already possess of the loss of so many innocent lives, much of the story was heartbreaking for me to read.  It was however, uplifting knowing that because of these brave, committed individuals, much of the beauty and culture which might have been lost has been saved for future generations.

I think this is an amazing book and am grateful to the men and woman who lived the story it tells.

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