Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

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My Review:

I read the whole book in two sittings!  Psychological thrillers are supposed to grab you right away, pull you in, create situations where you make assumptions and then force you to second guess yourself…Author Catherine Steadman did just that in her fast moving debut novel Something in the Water.  (FYI she is also an actress from Downton Abbey and she narrated the audio book!)

Mark is an investment banker and Erin is a filmmaker in the midst of making a documentary about people in prison.  (The subjects of money and crime could be foreshadowing!!!) The handsome couple is honeymooning in exotic Bora Bora and they are very much in love.  While on a secluded scuba diving day trip they discover something in the crystal clear blue water.  They make a decision about what to do and so it begins!  That is all I can say!  Around ever corner the newlyweds have to decide how to proceed, and as they dig their grave (figuratively…and maybe even literally!) they battle their moral compass while their loyalty to each other is tested.  Greed, curiosity and BIG secrets make this latest Reese Witherspoon Book Club choice a fun summer read!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Catherine Steadman is an actress and writer based in North London. She is known for her roles in Downton Abbey and Tutankhamun, starring alongside Sam Neill, as well as shows including Breathless, The Inbetweeners, The Tudors, and Fresh Meat.

In 2017 she will feature in political thriller Fearless and new BBC comedy Bucket. She also has appeared on stage in the West End including Oppenheimer for the RSC, for which she was nominated for a 2016 Laurence Olivier Award.

Something in the Water is her first novel.

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The Lost Family by Jenna Blum

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My Review:

The Lost Family is a beautifully written novel by Jenna Blum, author of the bestseller, Those Who Save Us.  The story begins in 1965 Manhattan.  World War II is over but the haunting memories are omnipresent for Peter Rashkin.  He survived Auschwitz but tragically lost his beloved wife and twin daughters, and Peter is  trying to start a new life for himself.  His extended family, the few that are still alive, have encouraged him to meet a nice Jewish girl and get on with life.  He owns and runs a restaurant called Masha, his lost wife’s namesake, and with a hole in his heart, emotional damage beyond repair, and physical scars on his body to prove it, Peter presses on.  He develops a relationship with June, a beautiful model twenty years younger, and although he cannot escape his torturous past, he hides his emotional and physical scars and gives what he can toward this new and exciting relationship.

Two decades later, Peter, his wife June and their daughter Elsbeth continue to struggle with Peter’s ghosts, the scars of war, and the legacy of the Holocaust and all the victims.  This emotional story touches upon many things, including the difficult restaurant business, high fashion modeling, the excitement and pitfalls of infidelity and the disturbing effects of eating disorders, but the basis of the emotional grief and ongoing challenges that engulfs the Rashkin family stems from personal loss, suffering and the terrors of World War II. Such a compassionate and engaging novel, don’t miss this great read.

Additional note:  Our past becomes part of who we are and we cannot separate out parts of ourselves.  Close family and younger generations may inherit the pain and suffering of oppressed and tortured relatives and Peter Rashkin’s family is no exception. Here is an article that talks more about this…CNN report discusses the possibility

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY was released from Harper Collins JUNE 5, 2018!

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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My Review:

WOW! What a great book! I feel like I have a deep understanding of this beautiful, struggling family having experienced their lives from different perspectives through Fatima Farheen Mirza’s heartfelt and elegantly written debut. She is gifted in making you feel the characters’ emotions from their own viewpoint and from other perspectives, gradually revealing different aspects without retelling the story.

A Place For Us begins at Hadia’s wedding in California.  The family gathers to celebrate a marriage based on love, not an arranged marriage as you might expect, and Amar, Hadia’s younger brother who ran away three years earlier, has returned for the celebration.  We don’t know why he was gone and thus the story is told from the beginning.

With secrets of clandestine meetings with the opposite sex, drug use and lack of strong religious beliefs, to nontraditional marriages, family responsibilities and commitments, and educational options for women, Mirza tells a rich and engaging story of today.  We see how an Indian Muslim family might feel conflicted with the parent’s family traditions of faith from prior generations, and the current American culture they are accustomed to where their children have grown up and are a part of.

This wonderful Indian, Muslim American family in many ways is like any other family, lots of love, sibling rivalry and parental discipline, yet they follow strict religious rules and traditions which at times complicate their relationships with each other and others. Due to traditional expectations, each family member feels personal conflict as they strive for social acceptance, grapple with religious beliefs and search for individual happiness.  Trying to find their place in the family is compounded with trying to find their place in the outside world, and like any family that has their own rules and strong belief systems, there are challenges.  This incredibly moving story feels authentic and relevant in today’s society where it continues to be a difficult to look, act and dress differently and still fit in amongst a crowd. This family has so much love for each other but love doesn’t always come without pain and disappointment.  The family members often act and react toward each other based on assumptions, always wanting the best, but not always with the best results. I adored the characters as they go on their journeys to develop their identities, enjoyed the format with different points of view, and was absorbed by the compelling story of family and culture; so beautifully written and emotionally powerful…my favorite book of the year so far!

Note:  A Place For Us is the first book published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint SJP for Hogarth.  To read about my conversation with SJP click here.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

 

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My Review:

The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy.  Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, emotional connections and their intertwined lives.

Through musical and personal challenges, emotional and physical relationships and breakups, private and career successes and failures, this foursome grows into their own as individual musicians and human beings as well as a group, making beautiful music together that just gets richer with age.  These friends and music partners experience harmonious relationships along with plenty of friction, but they are committed to their craft and each other to live the lives of professional musicians…together.

This book gives us an inside look at what it is like to be a classical musician and play in a quartet for 20 years…a wonderful story – very enjoyable!

 

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble, was published May 15, 2018 by Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House.

Aja’s short fiction can be found in New England Review, New Ohio Review, Glimmer Train, BOMB, and elsewhere. Her lyric essay, “The Sparrows in France,” appeared in Kenyon Review and earned her an honorable mention in Best American Essays 2015. She has taught fiction, non-fiction, and literature at the University of Virginia, the University of Houston, Sweet Briar College, and Pacific University, as well as at undergraduate creative writing conferences and community workshop organizations. She earned her BA at Wesleyan University, her MFA at the University of Virginia and has a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston.

Aja has been the recipient of awards from Atlantic Monthly and Inprint, as well as fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where she was a fellow in fiction 2012-2013.

She lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Bear.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

 

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My Review:

Tin Man, a tender and beautiful story, is heartbreaking and wonderfully moving.  At twelve years old, Ellis and Michael become friends.  They both have difficult family lives and less than stellar relationships with their fathers.  They spend lots of time together having fun and exploring their town outside of London, and then, their close friendship becomes something more.

Ten years later, Ellis is married to Annie and Michael is out of the picture.  Ellis is burdened with shame, stemming from his past, his insecurities about who he really is and fear of his father.  Author Sarah Winman writes about Ellis and Michael as young boys and as grown men, telling us all that happened in between.  It is a complex love story of sorts, really, a life story of two men, their choices and regrets, and also a story of strong women who allow these men to journey toward their own truths by providing love, support, friendship and family.  With memories of love and loneliness, these wonderful characters and powerful relationships are captivating, expressive and unforgettable.  For me, other compelling and interesting parts of the story include Van Gogh’s painting of The Sunflowers, France during the summer of 1969, and the late 1980’s AIDS epidemic.

Don’t be fooled by the small, diary-size of this novel – it packs a wonderful and powerful 5-star punch.

 

Tin Man Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.