The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak


My Review:

The Last Suppers is a captivating novel set in a Louisiana penitentiary where Ginny, young daughter of a murdered prison guard, is now all grown up and cooking for the inmates at the jail.  She meets with the prisoners on death row to find out what they want for their last meal and does her best to create the requested dishes.  The drama began two decades prior, when her father was killed and his supposed murderer was put to death while she and her mother were present.  Her dad’s best friend, Roscoe promised to take care of Ginny and her mother, and now, Ginny and Roscoe, currently the jail warden, work together and are a couple, intimately involved.  Despite the age difference, their comfortable routine has been beneficial to both of them over the years but things change when Ginny learns more about the man who paid the price for her father’s murder.
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Green by Sam Graham-Felsen


My Review:

It is the 1990s and Dave, son of Harvard educated hippies, is one of only a few white kids in his Boston middle school.  Having a difficult time connecting with the other students, he becomes drawn to Marlon, a black kid from the projects who seems to have similar interests; video games, the Boston Celtics and getting into the better high school.  They become friendly but both are ashamed of their home life and there is always a distance between them even as they become closer.  They spend hours watching vintage basketball games and have
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Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake


My Review:

Suspense/thriller Author Rebecca Drake takes us to a suburban town where four close friends each hide dirty secrets that are slowly revealed as the fast paced story in Just Between Us unfolds.  This domestic drama, similar in some ways to Big Little Lies, showcases their perfect, small town existence, but behind the public facade, there is darkness.

Three friends believe the other is in an abusive marriage and when the husband is found dead,
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Educated by Tara Westover


My Review:

The author’s coming of age in Educated is incredible, tragic, praiseworthy and monumental.  From a young girl loving and believing everything her parents tell her to questioning their logic and actively pursuing different answers and other ways of thinking, Tara Westover has the inherent desire to know more.  Reminiscent of The Glass Castle, Tara lives with her survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, and similar to  Leah Remini’s account of her time as a scientologist in Troublemaker, Tara begins to realize all she is told may not be the truth and although she is fiercely loyal to her parents and siblings she feels trapped and begins to question their nonconventional, way of life.
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Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by Bianca Marais


My Review:

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is one of my current favorite debuts!  In 1976 apartheid South Africa where racism was a way of life, we meet Robin, a 9 yr old white girl who was daughter to a miner and his wife.   Robin’s father did not always treat blacks fairly and, tragically, both parents were murdered, leaving the little girl alone.  Then we meet Beauty, a 50 year old, educated, black, single mother of  3; 2 teenage boys living with her in a small village and a daughter who had been living with a relative’s family so she could study in the city.  When Beauty finds out her daughter has run away to train for the resistance and she is in danger, she travels to the city to find her.
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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


My Review:

In Little Fires Everywhere, Author Celeste Ng skillfully weaves together two unlikely families as they hide secrets to pursue a good life.  Elena Richardson, born and bred in Shaker Heights,  is a buttoned up, mother of four.  The relationships she has with her husband and children seem typical and normal, yet, as she is continually trying to do the right thing, she struggles with her own expressions and tendencies and unknowingly distances herself from her family.  Free spirited, single mother, artist, Mia Warren and her obedient teenage daughter, Pearl, move to town and quickly become intertwined in the lives of the Richardsons. For Pearl, the Richardsons represent a typical, happy family; a family she would love to be a part of.  For the Richardson kids, Mia is the fun mom, the person to trust, the one who encourages, supports and speaks the truth.

Mia and Elena are conflicted within themselves and each other; one is hiding the secret in her past, yet is living freely and authentically and the other is pursuing the truth, yet is living in a self created cage and holding back.  Their relationship is complex; one would think mothers support other mothers yet not all mothers are created equal, and this is an interesting theme in the book.  Mother daughter relationships is another reoccurring focus as we see how Elena’s daughters are drawn to Mia and how Pearl wants to spend her time at Elena’s house.  When the Richardson’s family friend’s adoption debacle arises, there is a divide in who supports who, and what a mother’s rights are.

Celeste Ng writes a beautiful story using subtle touches to enhance her words.  Along with the incendiary descriptions throughout, she uses the name Mrs. Richardson rather than first name, Elena, allowing the reader to feel distant. I enjoyed the way Mia expresses herself, I felt I could see inside her soul.  Flawed yet beloved, Mia allowed each character to become more fully developed and live more honestly and truthfully.  She was able to see everyone for who they really were and appreciate them at face value without judgement – just like her art, which portrayed what she saw with beauty and honestly, each photograph a composition which represented each subject’s powerful essence.  On the other hand, Elena stood for what she believed what right, yet, to me, she seemed trapped.

In my opinion, at first look, Mia and Pearl were unlucky and the Richardsons had it all, but upon closer examination, the mother and daughter lived more authentically and had a much clearer grip on who they were.  Finally, each character made a decision that impacted everyones else’s lives, culminating in a devastating, fiery end.

Little Fires Everywhere was the bookclub choice this month and it provided fantastic conversation and plenty of disagreement amongst us.  I loved the story and highly recommend it along with Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You.


Little Fires Everywhere book discussion, holiday party and grab bag!

As Seen in Goodreads:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.


About the Author:

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward



My Review:

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a beautifully written, character driven, heartfelt novel that takes place in the steamy Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The story is about a young black girl, Leonie who has two children, Jojo who is thirteen and Kayla who is a toddler.  The children’s father, Michael, is white, and in prison.  Michael’s family is hopelessly racist and rejects Leonie and the children, so they live with Leonie’s parents.  Leonie is a drug addict and she is rarely around so Mam and Pop have stepped in to raise the kids.  Mam is dying of cancer and a broken heart due to her son’s death and spends all of her time in bed, and Pop is quiet, strong and teaches Jojo what he can around the farm.  Jojo is brave; he takes care of his little sister Kayla with love and care, despite his mother’s neglect as a parental role model.  When Michael is released from prison, Leonie takes her reluctant children away from their grandparents, on a road trip with her friend, Misty, to pick up drugs and then the children’s father.

Throughout the novel, we learn about Pop’s time spent in the penitentiary, and the horrific details that pepper his past.  We see how his daughter, Leonie, is selfish, neglectful, bitter and struggles with addiction.  We witness Jojo being able to communicate with the dead.  These rich characters evoke so much emotion, hope and despair, and I enjoyed my increased understanding of them as they became whole through Ward’s prose.

Jesmyn Ward shows us that the course of our life is not just based on our current existence, relationships, choices and our future potential but also includes our past and how its impact weighs on us.  In addition to these living characters in Sing, Unburied, Sing, there is the ghost of Leonie’s dead brother, Given, who she sees when she is on drugs, and Richie, the young boy Pop failed to save when he was in jail as a younger man, who Jojo sees and helps as he searches for answers about his own death.

I really did love this story of love, protection, race and family in the face of poverty down south.  The lines between past and present, death and the living and hate and love are fine and the characters often hover between them.  Jesmyn Ward does an artful job putting a spotlight on the injustices life may bring and I highly recommend this book!

As Seen on Goodreads:

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2017

A searing and profound Southern odyssey.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.


About the Author: 

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and was a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. She is also the author of the memoir, Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She lives in Mississippi.
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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly


My Review:


If you missed the release of Lilac Girls, now is the time to buy the paperback.  It is historical fiction based on true and harrowing events during World War II.  For me, the Holocaust has always been mostly about how the Jews were prosecuted; a devastating time in our history across the world.  But of course the Jewish people were not the only ones who were affected.  Author Martha Hall Kelly gets up close and personal with Kasia, a young Polish girl with Jewish ancestry who is completing secret missions for the underground anti-war efforts and is captured by the Gestapo with her sister and her mother… Herta, an out of work, German doctor who is offered a job at the women’s re-education camp and forced to execute by lethal injections… and Caroline, a New York francophile who sent supplies to the orphanages in France and who becomes a hero and savior to many.

Each chapter is about one of the three women; we learn about their everyday lives and challenges, love, relationships, hope and dreams as they navigate life during the war.  The most inspiring character for me is the reality based Caroline Ferriday.  She works for the French consulate, sending money and supplies to those in France during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Ultimately she learns of the Rabbits, this courageous group of young women being held at the concentration camp who were victims of a tragic medical experiment…horrible surgeries performed on them unnecessarily, their legs mangled and infected on purpose by the camp doctors to see what medicines worked, how much pain could be tolerated and which infections could be treated.  Many women died of this horrendous torture, but approximately 75 strong willed victims survived.  After Hitler was defeated, Caroline sought them out and brought all of these women to NYC for medical treatment and a tour of the United States.

If you have the chance to see author Martha Hall Kelly speak, do it!  You will hear about her research process for this book and how she travelled to Poland and had the privilege of meeting and interviewing several of the surviving Rabbits.  She has also spent countless hours at Caroline Ferriday’s summer house in Connecticut where the women stayed when they came overseas.  Her information gathering and writing process along with her book, Lilac Girls, are fascinating, and lucky for us, a prequel is in the making!  My book group and I were thrilled to spend a little time with Martha, hearing the back story and asking some questions.  Lilac Girls is a book not to be missed!

Lilac Girls Book Group.jpg


As seen on Goodreads:

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.


About the Author:

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is now hard at work on the prequel, thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true story behind Lilac Girls at her website: and lots of great pics on her ever-changing Pinterest pages.

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The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk



My Review:

I really enjoyed this short but dense book, The Red-Haired Woman written by Turkish Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk.  In the 1980s, a teenage, fatherless boy is an apprentice to Master Mahmut, a well digger.  They dig for water in the hot sun, and tell stories to pass the time.  They develop a tight relationship and grow to rely on each other as co-workers and as father and son.  One evening the boy observes a beautiful red haired woman twice his age and daydreams about her to get through the difficult days of work.  She is an actress in a traveling theater production and he becomes overwhelmed with desire to see her in the play and meet her.  Then there is an accident and we don’t know what happens to Mahmut.  The boy leaves town and we are not sure who the red-haired woman really is.  The characters connections to one another and the mysteries make this novel a fantastic page turner.

Through stories told to the boy by Master Mahmut, ideas about fathers and sons are explored with references to Oedipus Rex, where a son kills his father and has children with his mother, and Rostam and Sohrab, where the father kills his son. I had to do some googling to fully understand the references, but I like to learn something when I read and this story was captivating.  Love, loss and relationships are touched upon in The Red-Haired Woman, giving the reader a lot to think about, and so well written with a few shockers and surprises.  I loved how myths and real life paralleled each other and I highly recommend this book!


As seen on Goodreads:

On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well-digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck metre by metre, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before–not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other, and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realized, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well-digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the red-headed enchantress was.
A beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.


About the Author:

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As he writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the secular American Robert College in Istanbul, he studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University for three years, but abandoned the course when he gave up his ambition to become an architect and artist. He went on to graduate in journalism from Istanbul University, but never worked as a journalist. At the age of 23 Pamuk decided to become a novelist, and giving up everything else retreated into his flat and began to write.

Orhan Pamuk’s books have been translated into 63 languages, including Georgian, Malayan, Czech, Danish, Japanese, Catalan, as well as English, German and French. Pamuk has been awarded The Peace Prize, considered the most prestigious award in Germany in the field of culture, in 2005. In the same year, Snow received the Le Prix Médicis étranger, the award for the best foreign novel in France. Again in 2005, Pamuk was honoured with the Richarda Huck Prize, awarded every three years since 1978 to personalities who “think independently and act bravely.” In the same year, he was named among world’s 100 intellectuals by Prospect magazine. In 2006, TIME magazine chose him as one of the 100 most influential persons of the world. In September 2006, he won the Le Prix Méditerranée étranger for his novel Snow. Pamuk is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, and holds an honorary doctorate from Tilburg University. Pamuk gives lectures once a year at Columbia University. He received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest person to receive the award in its history. In 2014, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence received the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) given by European Museum Forum in Tallinn, Estonia. In the same year Pamuk also received Helena Vaz Da Silva European Award, an award which “acknowledges exceptional contributions to the communication on cultural heritage and European ideals”. In 2015, he received two significant prizes in Turkey for his ninght novel, A Strangeness in My Mind: Aydın Doğan Foundation Award and Erdal Öz Literary Prize. In 2016 Orhan Pamuk receives The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award (from the Museum and Estate of Leo Tolstoy) for “Foreign Literature” category with his novel A Strangeness in my Mind.

Orhan Pamuk’s tenth novel, The Red-Haired Woman  (2016) is the story of a well-digger and his apprentice looking for water on barren land. It is also a novel of ideas in the tradition of the French conte philosophique.

Apart from three years in New York, Orhan Pamuk has spent all his life in the same streets and district of Istanbul, and he now lives in the building where he was raised. Pamuk has been writing novels for 40 years and never done any other job except writing.

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