Audiobook: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Audiobook

Everything I Never Told You
by
Celeste Ng

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Rating:

On a spring morning in 1977, James and Marilyn Lee’s family changes in the worst way when their daughter, Lydia, goes missing. When police find her body at the bottom of the lake in their Ohio town, the agonizing questions begin. What happened? Was it murder or suicide? Lydia’s high school classmates can offer nothing, but her brother, Nath, has an idea who might know: their neighbor and classmate, Jack.

What follows is a painful look at a Chinese-American family and their struggle to understand how a girl who was seemingly happy, was not. Lydia’s story is paralleled by her mother’s abandoned dream to become a doctor. And while Marilyn wants Lydia to pick up the dream, James, who was lonely as the only Chinese boy in school, wants only for his children to fit in as Americans. Now without Lydia, her parents’ dreams are forever lost.

Everything I Never Told You is a story about regrets, unfulfilled dreams, unspoken feelings and the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings that result. James wants his children to be popular because he was not. Marilyn wants to be nothing like her mother, but when she finds herself married and shackled by children, she puts her dream on Lydia. Lydia wants only to please her mother. Nath dreams of escape and Hannah, their younger sister, just wants someone to notice her. Instead of showing how they feel, they pretend. And when Lydia dies, they can’t reach each other for comfort.

It’s only after Lydia dies that her parents get to know her, but it is too late to understand or change the events. Ng helps the reader understand by going back in time to tell each family member’s story, including Lydia’s friendship with Jack and her final night. A tentative connection suggests healing and hope, based on better communication. But they must all move forward without a full knowledge of what happened.

I enjoyed listening to this story, but I found it depressing, if both words can be in the same sentence. It was more of a compulsive listen because of Ng’s excellent writing and her ability to make the reader/listener feel, which was greatly enhanced by the narrator. I was very moved by her character’s emotions. And while there is hope at the finish, I wanted to rewind and tell the Lee children to act out rather than retreat. The need to please parents is always strong, however, and perhaps their feelings of isolation made them focus only on this.

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The Storyteller Speaks: Powerful Stories to Win Your Heart by Annika Perry

The Storyteller Speaks: Powerful Stories to Win Your Heart
by
Annika Perry

Rating:

The appeal of short fiction is that it offers a glimpse of a character’s life, a problem, a twist and a quick finish. Annika Perry’s debut collection, The Storyteller Speaks, makes good on this promise in her newly published book of fiction and poetry.

Perry gives the reader twenty-one distinct stories about the daily challenges of marriage, children, friendship, family and loss. Her characters are knowable and likable, even the ones who find themselves on the bad end of a decision. Many of her stories depict the author’s upbringing in Sweden and the United Kingdom, yet show a universal understanding of family and relationships. And even though the stories are separate, the reader begins to develop a sense of community, as it seems as if some of the author’s characters might know each other.

Several standout stories will stick in the reader’s mind because of memorable characters and conflicts. In “The Whiteout Years,” a young widower wonders how he can let go of the heavy burden of guilt. Likewise, a young mother faces a very different future in “Sophia!” after a bizarre and tragic series of events. In one, there is a sign of hope. In the other, an unknown challenge.

Other stories finish with a warm feeling of love and friendship. In “Friends Forever,” Perry’s characters overcome a long and painful break and in “Role-Playing,” happiness is a given when old friends reunite.

But Perry isn’t afraid of exploring difficult or dark subjects. In “The Game,” children playing a seemingly harmless game discover the frightening power of their diversion. And in “Smouldering Shame,” Perry’s characters confront betrayal and a sorrowful tragedy. In “A Rare Passion,” a young man acts on impulse and immediately sees the folly of his decision. Can he fix his mistake in time?

Despite difficult subjects in many stories, Perry offers a strong overlying message of hope, love and family, as shown in her final story, “Loss of a Patriarch” in which a family finds peace and comfort after a beloved father and grandfather dies.

The Storyteller Speaks is a touching look at the challenges of life and relationships, an excellent debut. I look forward to reading more from this promising author.

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Cover reveal for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H. Rohn

Make room on your bookshelves and eReaders for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H. Rohn, a collection of short fiction about the human relationship.

Social mores change from year to year, but one thing remains constant: conflict between people results from differing perceptions, often between men and women and between different generations. In each story, characters confront a variety of personal and professional problems and must either compromise or adjust to new circumstances. In “The Painting,” a young married woman’s deceit catches up to her. “Doc Brunner” tells the story of a pastor facing a series of interrelated problems during World War II. In “Harry,” music from long ago invokes powerful memories.

Representing a wide range of age groups and set in many different time periods, these stories show that, while times change and circumstances differ, conflict and resolution in human relationships is an ageless cycle.

Fred H. Rohn is the author of two business accounting books and a memoir, A Fortunate Life. He has been married for seventy years and has four children and nine grandchildren. The short stories in Encounters represent years of accumulated notes for story ideas. He lives with his wife, June, in New Jersey. Encounters is scheduled for release in July 2018.


     Click here to view Rohn’s January 2018 interview with the Madison Eagle.


Click here for more information about A Fortunate Life.


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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists
by
Chloe Benjamin

Rating:

In 1969, four siblings sneak through their New York neighborhood to visit a mysterious woman on Hester Street. The Gold children hear she’s a fortune teller and that she will tell them the dates of their deaths. Varya is thirteen. Daniel is eleven. Klara is nine and Simon is seven. Should they believe?

They keep their information private, but the dates stick in their minds. Nine years later, their father dies, and things change as the siblings begin their adult lives. Do their choices reflect these dates? Are they in control of their futures?

The Immortalists follows the lives of the four Gold children as their dates loom. Simon and Klara make choices that split their family. Varya and Daniel try to carry on and care for their mother. Benjamin tells their stories in four parts, with a concluding tie-in that connects past and present.

The story begins with a suggestion of some sort of magic that will explain the mystery of life and death as the adult children struggle to balance this idea with their Jewish family’s traditional teachings. Klara’s decision to become a magician seems to promise the reader that her story will reveal the bridge between the living and the dead. But the other siblings’ stories are not connected in that way.

While The Immortalists is a very readable story, I did not care for its darkness. The idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy is certainly interesting and held promise for a good book. And the cover suggests a very different story. I found it unrealistic and depressing. Some parts seemed over the top and unbalanced and the characters were hard to like. Perhaps their visit to the fortune teller weighed too heavy on them and made them unknowable.

Maybe I went into it thinking it was something else or maybe it just wasn’t for me. But of course, every reader is different. To help you decide whether to pick it up, see what readers on Goodreads and Amazon have to say.

Have you read The Immortalists? What did you think?

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The Leftovers – HBO Series

If you’re looking for an excellent show to watch, you might like this award-winning HBO series based on Tom Perrotta’s book, The Leftovers. The show was created by Perrotta and Damon Lindelof. It premiered in 2014 and ran through 2017.

Don’t worry, no spoilers here!

The Premise: Imagine if two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappeared, with no explanation. One minute you’re in the kitchen with your family. You leave the room and the next minute they’re gone. Or maybe you’ve just strapped your baby boy into his car seat. He goes, but you stay. What’s the reason? Is it the Rapture? How do you carry on? The “leftovers” struggle to figure it out and a cult called the Guilty Remnant has its own way of coping. Towns all over the world will never be the same. All hell pretty much breaks loose.

Season 1 follows the events of the book, and is set in the town of Mapleton, New York. The show’s first season was filmed in Westchester, about thirty minutes outside New York. Justin Theroux plays Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor. Amy Brenneman is Laurie Garvey, Kevin’s estranged wife. Carrie Coon plays Nora Durst—her whole family disappeared. Christopher Eccleston is Matt Jamison, Nora’s brother and a pastor. Liv Tyler is Meg Abbott, a target of Guilty Remnant and Ann Dowd is Patti Levin, the Remnant’s leader. (Click here for a full list of cast and crew.)

The acting in Season 1 is excellent. The scenes are deliberately uncomfortable and creepy. There’s no predicting what will happen. The show does a great job portraying Perrotta’s characters.

Season 2 travels to Jarden, Texas, a place known as Miracle because no one from the town departed. New characters are not who they appear to be and a frenzy ensues as people flock to the town. The Guilty Remnant and other cult leaders create all kinds of frightening havoc. New cast members join the Season 1 regulars and include Regina King, Kevin Carroll, Jovan Adepo, and Jasmin Savoy Brown.

How to describe Season 2? Wild and unpredictable, uncomfortable, and a little bit scary. My advice? Don’t even try to figure things out. Just trust that answers will come. You’ll have to wait for Season 3 for the big answer, though. Strong acting by the entire cast, especially Theroux, Coon, Eccleston and Dowd make this show.

Season 3 begins as the seven-year anniversary of the Sudden Departure approaches. No one has figured it out and the search for answers becomes global. This final season is set in Australia and includes the regular cast from Seasons 1 and 2, plus several recurring and some new characters. You’ll have to watch to the final minutes to understand, and even then there are questions.

Besides the terrific characters and plotlines, one of the best parts about this series is the filming. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that the actors and events are portrayed in a sort of enhanced reality, with tiny moments of irony and humor. Their ordinary lives are continuously smacked with the weirdness factor of the Departure. Jobs, babies, surprise parties, love lives—they struggle mightily to have something normal happen. My three favorite actors are Theroux, Coon and Eccleston. They are especially strong in Season 3, but everyone does a great job. I will probably watch the entire series again, just to pick up new details I’d missed.

Special mention also goes to the show’s music and opening credits, which often changes and reflects the mood for the episode. You can see the soundtrack for the entire series here.


And see where it all started. Check out the book here.

I highly recommend this original and unpredictable series. Everything about the show is polished, every detail important, every camera angle deliberate. Check it out and tell me what you think!

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The Bone Curse by Carrie Rubin

The Bone Curse
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating:

Ben Oris doesn’t worry when he is cut by an ancient bone in the Catacombs of Paris. After all, he’s a third-year med student and he knows how to treat a little cut. But something is wrong when he returns to school to begin a rotation in internal medicine. The cut won’t heal and people close to him are getting sick. Has Ben picked up an unknown pathogen? Is there something evil at work? It’s a race against time for Ben and his best friend Laurette, who is sure Ben needs to see a Haitian Vodou priestess.

In The Bone Curse, Carrie Rubin pits science and medicine against the idea of an ancient Haitian curse in an exciting medical thriller that keeps the reader guessing through the final pages. Set in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia summer, the story focuses on three tense weeks during which Ben tries to balance a demanding schedule while friends and family fall like bowling pins. Can he trust Laurette’s mysterious Haitian relatives and contacts?

Rubin tells a great story and develops her characters well. Readers will cheer for Ben, who is charmingly human and chew their nails as he confronts formidable and frightening opponents.

There are many things to like about Rubin’s writing style. One is her humor and understanding of the human condition. What fun to see Ben navigate a complicated love life and looming disaster, yet take a moment, while maneuvering Philly streets, to enjoy his “Bumper-to-bumper, parallel-parking masterpiece.” In addition, readers will enjoy a look into med school politics as Ben fends off rivals and a demanding attending physician. Ben’s modern and realistic family situation rounds out his character, making him both likable and knowable.

Rubin also knows how to keep a story moving by building a fear of the unknown. Vodou curses, blood sacrifices, and strange ceremonies in dark smoky row-house rooms are the backdrops to wild confrontations between murky good and evil characters as Ben does his best to determine who’s on the good side.

The Bone Curse is the first in the Benjamin Oris series of medical thrillers and Rubin rewards her readers with a satisfying finish and promise of more thrills. In addition, hints of a developing relationship between Ben and Laurette will no doubt make Ben’s love life an enticing side-story.

Due out this month, I recommend The Bone Curse to readers who like thrilling books with otherworldly themes.

I received a copy of The Bone Curse from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What’s That Book? We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

whats-that-book

TitleWe Were the Lucky Ones

Author:  Georgia Hunter

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating:  3.5 stars

What’s it about?  A fictionalized account of the author’s family in Poland and Europe during World War II. In 1939, the Kurc family lived in Radom, Poland. Sol and Nechuma had five grown children, just starting their lives. Everything changed when Germany invaded Poland. The parents were given jobs working in a German cafeteria. One brother was in France. Two others joined the Polish army. Mila Kurc’s husband disappeared and Halina’s new job was hard labor at a beet farm. The family was eventually forced out of their home and into a designated Jewish ghetto. The oldest son and his wife were sent to Siberia. For six years, the family was scattered, with little information about each other. They witnessed executions and faced brutal treatment and persecution by both the Germans and the Soviets. They endured unthinkable conditions, took innumerable risks to survive and resist, sometimes with the aid of Halina’s husband who was involved in the Underground.

Nearly six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and although the Kurc family suffered many losses, they all survived the war. When the war was over, some came to America, others settled in Europe, but they all left Poland. Georgia Hunter’s grandfather was the middle son, Addy, who was in Paris when Germany invaded Poland. He escaped and spent time in Spain, West Africa, Casablanca and Brazil, and had no contact with his family until after the war. When he arrived in America, one of the first thing Addy did was change his name, which was short for Adolf, to Eddie.

How did you hear about it?  My book club friend selected it.

Closing comments:  An incredible story of perseverance. The Kurc family survived a horrible period of history. Their courage and resolve—and, as the author says, luck—is a story that should be read and remembered.

On a side note, from a stylistic point of view, separate from the serious and important record of history, I felt that the book could have been shorter. While not a difficult read, it is over four hundred pages and the accounts are sometimes wordy and repetitive. In addition, it was sometimes difficult to keep the characters straight, as they did not possess enough distinct traits. The book often reads more as a wholesome Young Adult book, with an occasional scene that seems unbalanced with the overall style.

Contributor:  Ginette


whats-that-bookHave you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No One
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Dr. David Beck’s life fell apart eight years ago when his wife Elizabeth was taken by strangers. Even though a serial killer sits in prison, Beck can’t move on. He trudges through life and work as a pediatrician in a low-income New York neighborhood. The years have passed, but how can he let go of his best friend and sweetheart?

When Beck receives a computer message, he’s certain it’s from Elizabeth because it’s about something only she would know. But there’s a warning: “Tell no one.”

Readers are in for a wild ride as Beck tries to make sense of this message and later instructions. Set in New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, the story revolves around Beck, his sister Linda and her partner, plus-size supermodel Shauna, as well as Elizabeth’s cop family. Added to the mix is the powerful billionaire, Griffin Scope, a third-generation rich guy. Scope is consumed by avenging the death of his golden-boy son Brandon and by preserving Brandon’s good-works charitable foundation, headed, coincidently, by Linda.

Several messages later, Beck is certain Elizabeth is still alive. He needs help and turns to Shauna. Shauna keeps him grounded, but events get out of hand when Beck becomes a wanted man for murder.

Coben leads the reader through the preliminaries, then adds a great variety of side characters, including my favorite, the conflicted Tyrese Barton and the unknowable bad guy Eric Wu, someone you don’t want to meet in an alley. Other characters with questionable morality, but a sliver of conscience make this story more than just a thriller, but an interesting character study.

In addition to an exciting plot, Coben’s writing style is full of dry humor as well as many laugh-out-loud moments, as Beck somehow escapes certain death, more than once.

Just as in an action movie, Tell No One is a terrific, fast-moving suspense, with twists and turns to the final page. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading about the battle between good and evil in a highly entertaining story.

And if you like watching action movies, Tell No One was adapted to the screen in the French film of the same name. Read all about it here.

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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth
by
Zoje Stage

Rating:  3.5 bookmarks

Here’s a psychological thriller that will make you very uncomfortable. What are Suzette and Alex to do when life with their demonic 7-year-old daughter gets dangerous? Try to understand? Rationalize? Maintain a normal façade? What’s their breaking point?

Hanna is an adorable little girl, on the surface. But she refuses to talk and plays her parents against each other. No school will have her, so Suzette has tabled her art career to home school Hanna while Alex builds his new Scandinavian design business in Pittsburgh. Mommy is the bad parent. Daddy can do no wrong. And when Daddy’s away, Hanna’s evil deeds become more and more alarming.

When Hanna finally speaks, it’s in the chilling voice of an alter ego.

Zoje Stage’s debut thriller poses an interesting dilemma and her characters shoulder additional complex problems. Suzette comes from an unhappy childhood and struggles with Crohn’s disease. Alex wants the perfect family and misses many signs that their life is in trouble. Hanna is, well, we don’t know. The reader can only try to understand her and see what happens.

In addition to the uncomfortable subjects, readers should brace themselves for graphic language and ideas. Stage’s rough descriptions and dialogue can be very jarring. I found some of this excessive and much of it did not seem to fit her characters, who are portrayed as smooth and sophisticated. Perhaps that’s the point however, their façade is nothing like who they really are.

Alex and Suzette ultimately seek professional help which gives the reader better insight into Hanna’s problem, or maybe it doesn’t.

Themes of unconditional love, marriage, family, careers, and self-preservation run through Baby Teeth, making it a relatable story for all readers.

This is the kind of book that demands you read it straight through. Stage has created a powerful momentum and I couldn’t rest until I finished.

I received an ARC of Baby Teeth from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. While there was a disclaimer at the beginning assuring readers that all formatting issues would be addressed, these jumps and other rough draft problems were more frequent than other ARCs and were a bit of a distraction.

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Book Talk – The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Every Christmas my dad gives the women in our family a book. We each receive a different title, chosen specifically for us. I like this tradition. It reminds me of years ago when he used to pick out books for me and my siblings. This year I received The Rooster Bar by John Grisham.

Back in the 1990s, I tore through The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client. I wonder if he remembers this? These were excellent stories and the movies were also very entertaining. A few years ago I read The Racketeer and remembered why I liked John Grisham books.

So The Rooster Bar is waiting for me and I’ll get to it soon. Meantime, here’s a quick blurb from Amazon:

Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?  Well, yes and no . . .

Pull up a stool, grab a cold one, and get ready to spend some time at The Rooster Bar.

John Grisham has written thirty-one novels, one nonfiction book, a story collection, and six novels for young readers. You can learn more about him at jgrisham.com.

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