China Dolls, by author Lisa See, is a novel well worth reading. Set in California around the time of World War 11, the book tells the tale of three young Chinese women and their experiences as professional entertainers in the Oriental nightclubs that were popular at the time.

The three women, Grace, Ruby and Helen, meet by chance at an audition to dance in The Forbidden City Club. They become fast friends, but over the years, their friendship is sorely tried by various life events. All three women are carrying a secret that they keep hidden from the others.

The occurrence of World War 2 creates social and political challenges that ultimately lead to a huge betrayal — a betrayal that threatens to rip asunder the very seams of their friendship.

Like all of Lisa See’s book, this story is a good read, featuring strong female protagonists who ultimately emerge stronger at the end. Also like all of See’s books, this novel serves to educate us about a particular time in history, and how the Chinese people fared during this historical period.

I would have to say that China Dolls is not my favorite of Lisa See’s novels, but having said that, there is no such thing as a “bad novel” if Lisa See is the author. Its a good read, and it gives us a good perspective on the issues faced by the Asian community during the mid part of the 20th century.

Author Lianne Moriarty’s most recent novel, Big Little Lies, is easily the best book I have read in quite some time. I have read other books by this author, and while they are good, they didn’t capture my interest the way this one did.

Big Little Lies takes place in a seaside community in Australia.  An incident of bullying occurs in a kindergarten class. The little girl who has been hurt names a little boy as the bully who hurt her.

Parents get involved. Teachers and the school principle get involved. Intrigues and small-p politicking run rampant.

Throughout the book, we come to know the woman whose young son is accused of bullying, and the two mothers who become her friends and support her through the incident. We come to know the marriages and the families and the past history of some of these characters. Some we love. Some we do not.

We are also made aware that someone is murdered at an upcoming School Trivia Night. While the author cleverly drops hints and makes reference to this murder, we do not know who the victim is until the very end. We do not know who the murderer is until the end, either.

The writing style is superb. The book is both funny and sad and always, always highly entertaining.

The plot is good and so is the character development.

I suppose a more analytical person than me might have some criticisms of this story, but for me, I have none. I can only say I hope Moriarty’s next book is as good as this one.

 

Saving Grace, by Jane Green, is a great novel if you enjoy stories of family dysfunction and intrigue. The protagonist, Grace Chapman, is living the life that dreams are made of. She has a lovely home, a fulfilling career, a wonderful adult daughter and an almost perfect marriage to a famous author. It would be perfect, that is, if husband Ted wasn’t prone to hateful rages and temper tantrums that cause Grace to live in dread and anxiety.

Into their lives comes Beth, a nondescript young woman who takes the job as Ted’s assistant. Quite, intelligent, well read, and extremely capable, Beth quickly takes over the running of the household quite simultaneously managing Ted’s moods without raising an eyebrow.

Then, slowly, things start to feel wrong to Grace. Incidents start to happen that cause Grace to question her sanity and wonder if she is doomed to develop the same bipolar disorder that plagued her late mother. With every day that passes, Grace finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of confusion and despair. And, with every day that passes, Beth becomes more confident, more sure of herself, better dressed, more in charge of the home and lives of her employers.

Without giving away the rest of the plot, I will comment that this story addresses such issues as mental illness and society’s attitudes towards it, as well as emotional abuse within and outside of a marriage.

In short, we get an unforgettable look at how becoming victim of a sociopath can have such devastating effects on the victim’s mental health, self worth and well-being.

I enjoyed the book tremendously. I will be looking for more titles by Jane Green in the future.

What Alice Forgot, a novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, is another book that starts out slow but captures your interest bit by bit, until finally you are hooked and cannot put it down.

The book begins when Alice wakes up in a hospital following a fall and head injury. She discovers that she has completely forgotten the past ten years of her life. During that ten years, it turns out that Alice has given birth to three children, separated from her husband Nick, acquired a new boyfriend, found new friends and discarded some of the old ones, and become a driving, organizational force in her community and in her kid’s school.

The only problem is that she doesn’t remember any of it and is still madly in love with her separated husband.

Things progress. Alice’s memory returns, bit by bit.

The question big is, who is Alice now? Is she the gentle, casual Type B personality Alice from ten years ago, or the focused, busy, organized Type A personality from today? Other questions in need of answers are, who are these new people in Alice’s life and are they positive influences or not? How has her widowed mother come to marry a totally inappropriate man? Why does sister Elisabeth act so unfriendly? Why is the lovely old lady next door shunning Alice? Who are these three children that call her mom but whom she doesn’t remember?

You will have to read the book to find out. Its good, despite a rather slow beginning.

I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

Mother, Mother, authored by Koren Zailckas, is a novel about family dynamics. While it could be said, probably without exaggeration, that all families are dysfunctional to one degree or another, this family wins the Dysfunction Sweepstakes.

To the outsider, it appears that the mother of the family, Josephine has an idyllic life. Her husband is a computer guru in a high position at a technology company. She has two gorgeous, popular and talented daughters and a brilliant twelve year old son. To top it off, the family lives in a wonderful historic mansion.

But behind the facade of perfection lurks a family with secrets.

The story begins with the mid child, sixteen year old Violet, being taken away by police for allegedly stabbing her twelve year old brother William. William who suffers from epilepsy and Asperger’s Syndrome, experienced a seizure at the time of the attack. The oldest daughter, Rose, we are given to understand, has run away from home and is keeping her whereabouts a deep secret. Periodically, she visits the family in secret to commit acts of vandalism and destruction.

The man of the house is a highly-employed computer geek who escapes the drama in his home through work and through excessive drinking of beverage alcohol. He may be having an affair. Mom Josephine keeps everything running on a tight schedule by micro managing the family and controlling every aspect of her children’s lives, and of her husband’s life when she is able.

In the beginning, I found the book and the writing style a bit tedious and considered abandoning it in favor of a more exciting read. However, as time went on, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued with the events taking place in this family. By the end, the book was downright scary and I couldn’t put it down.

If you enjoy reading stories about family dysfunction, then you will appreciate this book. The only complaint I have, other than the slow beginning, is that the main protagonist, Violent appears far too wise and knowledgeable for a sixteen year old, especially a 16 year old coming from such an environment. Few adults would have Violet’s wisdom and maturity.

The book has a satisfactory ending, in that at least two family members are involved in personal healing. However, the book is honest enough to let us know that the problems are far from being over. There could well be a follow up novel to this story.

I wonder if the author has that in mind.

Anteater of Death, by Betty Webb, is said to be the first in a series of murder stories featuring protagonist Teddy Bentley. Teddy is a zookeeper and dedicated animal lover. When a man is found dead in the enclosure of Lucy the Giant Anteater, Lucy is suspected of the killing. However, forensics discovers that the man was dead, murdered most likely, before Lucy attacked him.

Teddy goes to work to solve the case, and of course, in the end, she succeeds. It’s what happens in the meantime that makes the story interesting. We have another murder, a gangster on the lam, a budding romance between Teddy and the sheriff, friction between Teddy and her rich, socialite mother and much more.

If you’ve read Betty Webb’s series of books featuring Lena Jones and the sister-wives of the Utah Mormons, you have an idea of what to expect. This is standard Webb, and for fans of murder mysteries, its a good read.

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion, continues with the ongoing escapades of Professor Donald Tillman and his now-wife, Rosie. Simsion introduced us to this couple in his first book, The Rosie Project.

I loved The Rosie Project and I liked The Rosie Effect even better. Now relocated to New York, the newlyweds experience extreme turmoil when Rosie announces her unplanned pregnancy.

Those of you who read The Rosie Effect will recall that Don is a brilliant scientist and professor who happens to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological condition that exists on the higher end of the autism scale. As such, he deals poorly with surprises and regulates his life by planning and strict regulation to rules.

This book is surprisingly poignant. Don struggles to adjust to the reality of parenthood and sets himself a goal of learning how to be good father. Early on, attempting to learn more about children, Don visits a playground with notebook and video camera. As expected, this has unexpected and unwanted consequences, including arrest and ultimately being assigned to a social worker.

I won’t spoil the story by saying more, but I found this book to be poignant and moving in a way that The Rosie Project was not. It greatly expanded my understanding of the challenges that people with Asperger’s must face on a daily basis.

All ends well, of course, and the door is left open for a further book when the baby is born. (I hope).

 

 

 

The Three Day Affair, by Michael Kardos, is a suspense novel with a twist. It begins with three former college buddies getting together for their annual reunion of golf, pizza eating and reminiscing over old times. Things take a sudden and unexpected turn for the worst one one of these men, Jeffrey, impulsively robs a convenience store and kidnaps Marie, the eighteen year old clerk. Jeffrey drags the protesting girl to the car where Nolan and Will, his two friends are waiting. He tosses Marie in the vehicle and hollers, “Drive.” Believing that the girl requires medical attention, the driver obeys the order, only to learn shortly afterwards that she is a hostage, not a medical emergency.

When Nolan and Will realize they are now implicated in a serious crime, the three men struggle to find a solution that will allow them to release the hostage while at the same time avoiding the consequences that go along with kidnapping and hostage taking.

Over the course of the next three days, the situation rushes on with the surety of a train wreck about to happen. The reader knows that things will not, cannot end well, but what precisely will happen is anybody’s guess.

The end comes, as anticipated, with a shock and a surprise. You are left with the realization that this story has no heroes — only extremely defective human beings.

I enjoyed this book. If, like me, you are into novels of psychological suspense and intrigue, then this is the book for you.

This novel is the first full length novel that Karos has written. I predict that it won’t be his last. This new author is well worth keeping an eye on. He’s going places.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, is nothing short of delightful.

Its not often you hear me rave about a book, especially a book that might be described as a romantic comedy if it were a movie, but I’m raving about this one.

The Rosie Project is written from the point of view of Don Tillman, a brilliant scientist and university professor who just happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. Although Don is good looking, financially secure, upstanding and moral, his challenges with social situations create problems. He has only two friends, and has never had a second date.

Don wants a wife or at least, a life partner. In Sheldon-like fashion, he creates The Wife Project and goes about his search for a wife in what is his typical fashion. He screens potential wives by screening them with an online questionnaire. Surprisingly, very few applicants achieve passing grades.

However, when a beautiful young woman named Rosie appears in his life, Don puts the Wife Project on the back burner to help Rosie with a project of her own.

One thing leads to another. And another. And another.

I won’t spoil the story by telling you the ending, but I will say that this book is refreshingly new and funny and very, very readable.

The Rosie Project is Graeme Simsion’s first novel. If the rest are anywhere near as good as this one, he has a great career ahead of him, and we readers have much to anticipate.

Inside The Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Ladin, is the true story of one woman’s experience living in Saudi Arabia during the late seventies and eighties.

Carmen Bin Ladin, half Swiss and half Persian, but living in Switzerland,  met and married the brother of Osama Bin Ladin  in 1974. The couple eventually moved to Saudi Arabia so her husband could participate in the family’s construction business.  There is no way I can aptly describe the experiences that she encountered, but I can certainly say conditions for women were nothing short of appalling.

The Bin Laden family were extremely rich and powerful, enjoying strong contacts with the king and princes.  Because of this power, Carmen was awarded more freedoms than would apply to a more ordinary family.  For instance, she was able to bring books and other supplies back from Geneva without being subjected to searches and sanctions at the airport.  Her life was made somewhat more bearable because of the money she married into and the ability to spend several months of each year in Switzerland or in the United States.

In the book, the author mentions Osama Bin Laden briefly. She did not have a lot of contact with him, but even at that time, Osama was known as a rigidly religious man with a strong dislike of the western world.

Carmen managed to leave Saudi Arabia in 1988, along with her three daughters, and separated from her husband. The divorce proceedings, along with her battle to gain custody of the girls was chilling.

Carmen Bin Laden lives in Switzerland. She kept the name of Bin Laden for the sake of her daughters but has faced serious hostility because of the infamous man who shares her family name.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it.  I have no idea whether the situation in Saudi Arabia is the same today as it was during the time that Carmen lived here. It could be better. It could be worse.

 

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