Category Archives: Five-Ten Star Books

The Master Butchers Singing Club – Book Review

MastersButcherSince she had known Eva Waldvogel, and also traveled here and there with Cyprian, she had started to understand how a woman’s attention could succeed in making sense of man’s blind chaos, and yet women needed their own wildness. It was here. All ran riot. The garden and weedy yard would wax fuller until it turned into a jungle of unhitched vines and rusty birdbaths made of ham tins. Eva’s dog, the white shepherd, Schatzie, dug up old bones the former dog had buried and refused to rebury them. It would be awful, Delphine felt, when the leaves withered in the fall, to see the litter of femurs and clavicles, the knobs and knuckles. As if the scattered dead, rising to meet the Judgment, had to change and swap their parts to fit. -from The Master Butchers Singing Club, page 109-

Fidelis Waldvogel manages to survive the horrors of World War I, then returns to his German village and marries Eva – the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action. The newly married couple set out for America and end up in Argus, North Dakota, where Fidelis opens his butcher business.

Delphine Watzka returns home to Argus, North Dakota with her boyfriend, Cyprian after years of performing as a traveling act. There she discovers her alcoholic father and the bodies of a man, woman and child in his basement.

The lives of these two characters merge when Delphine and Eva meet. The two forge an instant friendship and become inseparable.

Louise Erdrich’s rich novel about a German immigrant and his family is tender, thoughtful, funny, and deeply emotional. As with all Erdrich novels, there are many sharply developed, often quirky, characters. Erdrich never rushes the tempo of her story, carefully setting her scenes and building the relationships between the characters.

Fidelis is a complex man with simple needs. Delphine mourns the mother she has never known and longs for a deeper relationship with a man. Both characters take center stage without diminishing the impact of the other, more secondary characters.

This book is, at its heart, a family saga with a bit of a mystery at its center. Erdrich is exceptionally talented and able to make all the pieces fit, integrating the characters into the community they inhabit and providing a deep understanding of life in twentieth century, small town America.

I have yet to read an Erdrich novel I have not loved and The Master Butcher’s Singing Club is no exception. Erdrich writes with a mix of poignancy and humor, meticulous detail, and vivid imagery. I did not want this book to ever end.

Readers who love historical family sagas and literary novels will embrace this book.

Highly recommended.


The Dog Stars – Book Review

DogStarsSo I wonder what it is this need to tell. To animate somehow the deathly stillness of the profoundest beauty. Breathe life in the telling. Counter I guess to Bangley’s modus which is to kill just about everything that moves. – from Dog Stars, page 52 –

The world is not the same. A flu has wiped out 99 percent of all humans. The few remaining are fighting (quite literally) for survival. Enter Hig, a man who has lost his wife and unborn child and now lives in an abandoned hanger with his dog, Jasper, and a rough, gun toting survivalist named Bangley. Hig’s biggest joy is taking flight in a 1956 Cessna with his dog by his side. He loves breaking free of the confines of the airport. When he is not flying, he longs to walk into the forest and fish and hunt. But danger is everywhere. Hig never loses hope that there is more out there – love, friendship and the nature he so misses. So one day, he takes off in the Cessna and flies to the point of no return to try and discover a life he misses beyond all else.

Peter Heller has penned a spare, first person narrative about nature vs. technology, survival, memory and love. Hig is a character who reels the reader into his grief and loneliness…and then shows her there is still hope.

This novel is not simply a post-apocalyptic novel. Heller’s astute observations of nature and his poetic introspection into his characters elevate this book to a thoughtful, heartbreaking literary work. Hig mines his emotional territory with reflections of the past and the memories of those who died. His relationship with Jasper is one of the best parts of the book and demonstrates how love (no matter where it comes) can lift one up and give meaning to life.

The Dog Stars is one of the best books I read in 2014 – calamity, desperation…and finally a burst of hope that promises new beginnings. Tender, brilliantly penned, and a reminder that connection to others is what the world is all about, this is a novel that will appeal to readers who love great characters and literary fiction.

Highly recommended.


The Family Handyman Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual – Review

HandymanDIYManual.Are you someone who likes to take on DIY projects around the house? Or maybe you don’t like it, but you find yourself faced with fixing things like leaky pipes. Or maybe you want to revamp your landscaping or remodel the living room. If your answer to any of these is “Yes” than you need to go out and buy yourself a copy of the newly updated Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual published by editors of The Family Handyman by the Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

I received this book from the wonderful folks over at FSB Media and gifted it to my husband for Christmas. My guy is a very handy man (which I love) and he has owned and used all the previous editions of this book. So I was very happy that he agreed to assist me with this review.

The book has chapter divisions that make sense and uses colored tabbed pages to make finding what you need easy. It covers topics that range from Hand Tools to Power Tools, Plumbing, Electricity, Interior Repairs, Windows and Doors, Landscaping and more … there are a total of seventeen individual sections that provide basic information (readers can also access the Family Handyman website to get more in depth information for any project).

This updated version of the classic manual has improved illustrations which are clearer and easier to follow for those who are visual learners. A section on Cordless Tools has also been added, along with updated general codes/new developments for things like electrical installations.

My husband also noted that the book is a distinctive shape which makes if easy to locate on the bookshelf. When asked if he recommended it, he said “It is a great basic home reference book.

I try to steer clear of most home repairs, but I thumbed through this manual and discovered that even I could probably get by without too much trouble by following the instructions! And that says a lot!

Highly recommended as a home reference guide.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Book Review

NarrowRoadIn this way, thought Nakamura, the Japanese spirit is now itself the railway, and the railway the Japanese spirit, our narrow road to the deep north, helping to take the beauty and wisdom of Basho to the larger world. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 94 –

It is August of 1943 along the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Australian doctor Dorrigo Evans and his comrades are struggling each and every day to survive as POWs in a Japanese camp. They face starvation, daily beatings, illness, monsoons, mud…and the never-ending toil to complete the great railroad which the Japanese Emperor desires. Dorrigo lives for his men, he fights for their survival, and mourns their deaths. He tries to banish his memories of his uncle’s wife – a woman who enchanted him, loved him, and changed his world.

How does anyone survive the tortures of being a prisoner of war? That question kept repeating itself to me as I read and tried to find the meaning hidden behind the transcendent prose of Richard Flannagan.

They are survivors of grim, pinched decades who have been left with this irreducible minimum: a belief in each other, a belief that they cleave to only more strongly when death comes. For if the living let go of the dead, their own life ceases to matter. The fact of their own survival somehow demands that they are one, now and forever. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 155 –

This nonlinear novel takes the reader from the hot, wet jungle of Burma to Australia years after the war. It explores death, the connection between humans in the face of adversity, evil, goodness, guilt and remorse…and the power of love.

Without love, what was the world? Just objects, things, light, darkness. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 291 –

This is a brutal novel and one that is not for the faint of heart. Flannagan’s prose is searing, devastating, and measured. There is a good deal of brutality and violence. The suffering of the POWs is revealed in affecting language that made it hard for me to fall asleep at night.

The main character – Dorrigo – at first seems unlikeable, but by the end of the book, it is clear his heart is wholly human: flawed, proud, loving, resentful. He is a complex man who is forever changed by his experiences. In fact, the Japanese guards are also portrayed as not all evil – they have families, they love, they fear. If it were Flannagan’s desire to develop humanity within his characters, even those who commit unspeakable acts, he has succeeded.

One message that the novel seems to impart is that of the pointlessness of war. The Thai-Burma Death Railway was constructed in 1942-43 as a means for the Japanese to supply forces in Burma while bypassing the sea routes that made them vulnerable to attack. More than 12,000 allied troops being held captive, died during the railway’s construction…including 2700 Australians. Flannagan reflects on the railway post-war:

And of that colossal ruin, boundless and buried, the lone and level jungle stretched far away. Of imperial dreams and dead men, all that remained was long grass. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 227 –

The Narrow Road to the Deep North captured the 2014 Man Booker Prize and I believe it was worthy of this award. While it is difficult reading on an emotional level, the prose is deeply moving and offers a look into the human spirit. Basho’s literary classic, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, suggests: “every day is a journey, and the journey itself home.” Flannagan’s novel, which borrowed Basho’s title, is about the journey of one man…and his search for “home.” Readers who are not squeamish and who enjoy literary fiction, will want to put this one on their reading list.

Highly recommended.


All The Light We Cannot See – Book Review

AllTheLightOpen your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 49 –

Hitler is marching in the streets and the Nazis move ever closer to France. Marie-Laure, age twelve, lives in Paris with her father who works as a lock keeper at the Museum of Natural History. Marie’s eyesight is lost to her at the age of six, but she is able to navigate the streets like a sighted person with help from her father’s intricate miniature reproduction of their neighborhood. Inside the walls of the museum is a valuable jewel which is linked to a story of immortality and death. Just before the city falls to the Germans, Marie and her father flee Paris…with them is the jewel, or its replicate.

Werner is a young German boy being raised behind the doors of an orphanage in a small mining town. Werner and his sister, Jutta, become fascinated by a broken radio which Werner fixes. They listen late at night to voices from far away. With his talent for electronics, Werner is soon sent to an academy for Hitler Youth – a brutal, terrifying place that prepares him to use his skills to track down enemies of Hitler’s Riech.

In the walled city of Saint-Malo, Marie and Werner’s stories converge as Allied bombs fall. Written in magnificent prose, almost poetic in its narration, All The Light We Cannot See is a magical, searing novel about war, fear, radio, and the resilience of the human heart.

Author Anthony Doerr, who has won numerous literary prizes for his short stories, has written one of the best novels of 2014. He was inspired by the true story of Saint-Malo, a city on the edge of the sea in Brittany, France. In August of 1944, this historic jewel was almost completely destroyed by fire after the United States bombed it. Doerr captures the horror of the attack in his novel, placing the reader in the midst of the inferno.

Doors soar away from their frames. Bricks transmute into powder. Great distending clouds of chalk and earth and granite spout into the sky. All twelve bombers have already turned and climbed and realigned high above the Channel before roof slates blown into the air finish falling into the streets. -from All The Light We Cannot See, page 95 –

But, this book is less about the war and more about its impact on its main characters: Marie and Werner. Both characters are children who grow up against the backdrop of World War II – one a blind, French girl…the other a German youth whose promising future is threatened by the will of the State.

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and the trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 389 –

Doerr’s narrative moves back and forth in time and switches points of view from chapter to chapter. Skillfully crafted, the story unwinds with a slow tension that keeps the pages turning. I loved the beautiful writing, the loving character development, and Doerr’s ability to show his characters not as enemies, but as humans who desire the same things even though War separates them.

All The Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of historical and literary fiction…and certainly one of the best books of the year. Readers should not be intimidated by the page count – the book is superbly edited and every page is worth the read.

Highly recommended.



Station Eleven – Book Review

StationElevenWhat was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot in the mysteriously named town of St. Deborah by the Water, Lake Michigan shining a half mile away. – from Station Eleven –

It is winter. Inside a theatre an audience is watching King Lear. A famous Hollywood actor slumps to the stage and dies. It is the final night before the world changes forever.

Station Eleven is the stunning fourth novel by the accomplished Emily St. John Mandel. Set in a post-pandemic world, the book follows the lives of six characters: the actor who dies on stage, the man who tries to save him, the actor’s first and second wives, as well as his best friend, and finally, a young child actor.

The narrative explores multiple points of view and moves back and forth in time which allows for in depth character development. The plot is multilayered and convincing. Mandel’s descriptions of the post-apoplyctic world ring true – devastating, and yet still infused with beauty.

Thematically, the novel examines the idea of connectiveness between individuals, the importance of art and literature in one’s life, faith, and the appreciation of the things we take for granted.

I have read all of Mandel’s novels – and Station Eleven is my favorite: perceptive, skillfully plotted, provocative, warm-hearted, and lyrical. Decidedly literary in style, but with the page turning quality of a suspense-thriller, Station Eleven is a gem of a novel. One of the best I’ve read this year.

Highly recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher.

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas – Book Review and Giveaway

2AM Not today, Philadelphia. Bring your sorry shit back tomorrow. – from 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas –

Madeleine Altimari is only nine years old, but don’t let that fool you…this is one brave, independent-minded kid who doesn’t let reality get in the way of her dreams. Madeleine has been practicing singing all her life. She just needs the chance to prove her voice to others.

Sarina Greene is the kind of teacher most fifth grade  kids wish they had, and she’s back in Philadelphia after a divorce wondering what it will be like to meet up with her old high school crush again. Insecure and disappointed by what life has so far dished her way, Sarina wonders if everything could change if she just took a chance.

Lorca is dealing with an estranged girlfriend and a teenage son (who only wants to play guitar) when suddenly he is faced with the possibility of losing his business unless he can come up with $30,000.

All three of these characters come together on the Eve of Christmas Eve at The Cat’s Pajama’s, an aging jazz club whose history seeps out into the smokey atmosphere and captivates its audience. Coincidence and maybe a little magic unite to open up a world of possibility and joy for this novel’s protagonists.

Marie-Helene Bertino has written a charming story about bad luck, human kindness, and the dazzling lure of possibility. Witty and surprising, the novel celebrates the little things in life which can lead us to inner change and happiness. Madeleine is the star of the novel, a kid who has lost her mother and is forced to care for her grieving father, but never gives up her dream of singing. She’s tough, has a mouth like a sailor and has a way of always coming out on top no matter what life throws her way.

Mixing literary fiction with a bit of magical realism, Bertino has crafted a fine first novel that will captivate readers.

Highly recommended.


About the Author:

MH BertinoMarie-Helene Bertino is the author of the story collection Safe as Houses, which won the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Prize and The Pushcart Prize, and was long-listed for The Story Prize and The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York’s Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story.

tlclogoFTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review as part of a TLC Book Tour.

Book Giveaway:

I am happy to be able to offer a copy of this book to a lucky winner living either in the US or Canada. The winner will receive a new book from the Publisher (Crown) after the conclusion of the tour (the end of this month).

  • To enter to win please complete the survey at the bottom of this post.
  • Comments left on this post do not enter you in the contest – you must complete the survey
  • Contest will run from August 17th through August 26th, 2014 at 5:00 pm PST.
  • I will draw one winner randomly from all entries and announce their name here on my blog on the 27th of August. I will also contact the winner via email.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

8Wikipedia: Year 8 was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Camillus and Quinctilianus. The denomination 8 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Byrd – Book Review

ByrdDear Byrd, This is how I told your father. We climbed up on his roof. We could see the ocean, wrinkles of light in the distance. I was wearing a billowy cotton skirt. I wanted to look soft, unthreatening, unselfconsciously pretty. I wanted your father to love me. My legs were pale, not used to sun in winter. I had painted my toenails lavender. I wanted him to be a little sorry he hadn’t love me all along. – from Byrd –

Addie Lockwood meets Roland Rhodes when they are young and impressionable. Growing up in a small Southern town in the 1970s, they connect briefly and then go their separate ways, only to re-connect in Venice Beach, California years later. Roland is a wannabe musician and Addy is a bookstore clerk. When Addy becomes pregnant, it is clear that Roland does not love her nor want to be a father. So when a botched abortion results in Addy giving birth to a son, she decides to surrender him for adoption without telling Roland.

Written in spare prose that packs an emotional punch, Byrd is about regret and motherhood and finding happiness in the small spaces. Kim Church has written poetry and short stories before publishing this debut novel, and her beautiful prose is a testament to finding just the right words to reel the reader into a story.

Addie writes letters to her child, who she named Byrd because she wanted a “name no one else would ever call you.” Her letters fill in the gaps in her life, and reveal a deep love for a son whom she has never known. Addie is a woman searching for meaning and love, grasping at small moments where she thinks happiness may be found. Roland is unreachable, a puzzle, an emotional void for Addie. But the reader learns more about him as Church peels back the layers of a sensitive and emotionally vulnerable man.

Byrd is one of those books that resonate when the reader turns the final page. There is an ache of loneliness, the sting of regret…and finally a burst of hope that makes the journey through Addie’s life well worth it. Church’s insight into the human psyche, her understanding of the struggle to make sense of past mistakes and difficult choices, is deeply provocative.

Readers who love spare, literary fiction which is riveting in its exploration of the human heart, will want to pick up a copy of this amazing novel.

Highly recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.


Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – Book Review

KnowledPhysicalTherapyAnimalsge is power. Animals deserve all we can give them. – from the Introduction –

Physical Therapist Susan E. Davis spent more than thirty years using her skills to treat human patients, and then decided to funnel her love for animals into her career. She trained at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary School and opened a canine and small animal practice in 2008. Her book – Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – focuses on physical therapy for canines, although she does talk a bit about other species.

I was particularly interested in reading this book as I am also a licensed physical therapist, having worked twenty-five years in the field, mostly in geriatrics, neurological disability and with adults with developmental delay. Anyone who comes to my blog also knows how much I love animals, especially dogs. When I was training my dog, Caribou, for search and rescue I found myself in the unique position to offer her some physical therapy. After all, despite differences in anatomy, much of what I have learned treating humans can be used to treat our four legged friends. Caribou suffered from elbow dysplasia (an Ununited Anconeal Process) and underwent surgery for this condition. Following the surgery, I provided ultra sound treatment, massage and range of motion exercises and used my knowledge as a physical therapist to gradually increase her exercise under the guidance of the surgeon and my veterinarian. Caribou went on to become a certified search and rescue dog in three disciplines and worked until she was nine years old going on multiple searches in and around California.

Susan Davis is doing pet owners, and also those with working dogs, a great service in sharing her knowledge of the field of physical therapy for animals. Although I provided PT for Caribou, I was not specifically trained in working with animals…and I would encourage pet owners to seek the skills of someone who has gone through that specialty training and received the appropriate certification. At the time I was working my dog, there were very few practitioners in this field…but that is changing now.

Davis’s book is written so that anyone can understand it. There are helpful chapter divisions including how the field has emerged and developed, how to choose a therapist (and what to expect), various forms of treatment, use of therapeutic exercise, use of equipment, explanation of various orthopedic and neurological conditions and how to treat them, rehabilitation of medical conditions and a special section on performance enhancement for show, agility, sport, and working dogs. Davis spends some time educating the pet owner on expectations of therapy and provides an appendix of helpful resources.

I found the book well organized, well written and a great resource for my library on care for my dog. Pet owners, as well as those who have working or agility/sport dogs, will find Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals an essential reference book.

Highly recommended.


The Bear – Book Review

BearI turn over and hug Gwen and snuggle into Stick and hope the sounds will go away. Momma screams like a monster is tackling her. That’s why I know it’s a dream so I should keep my eyes shut tight. It is dark behind my eyes. Momma never yells. Mostly not ever. Except sometimes. – from The Bear, page 10 –

Five year old Anna and her two year old brother Alex (aka Stick or Sticky) are camping on Bates Island in Algonquin Park (just northeast of Toronto, Canada) with their parents. It seems idyllic. And then tragedy strikes. A three hundred pound black bear attacks Anna’s parents in the middle of the night. Anna and “Stick” are spared, but as morning comes, Anna sees the chaos left behind. Her mother whispers through dying lips “Get your brother in the canoe and go to the middle of the lake.” And Anna does just that.

What unfolds is a highly suspenseful, quite terrifying story told in the innocent voice of Anna. As Anna tries her best to care for her young brother, she is haunted by “the black dog” who has become a monster in her eyes. The choice of Anna as narrator is brilliant because Anna is a child, and not able to fully grasp the danger or how to deal with it. Her thoughts return to happier times, then catapult back into the traumatic present. Meanwhile, the adult reader is all too aware of the precarious future facing these two very young children.

The pages almost turn themselves as the days in the wilderness unspool. I was mesmerized, thrilled, terrified and ultimately moved by Anna’s story. I do not want to tell you the ending – but let me just say that it is perfect.

The Bear reminded me of another compelling novel narrated by a child. When I read Emma Donaghue’s novel Room (read my review) I could barely breathe. Cameron’s book took me to that same space – one of almost impossible tension. I think writing a novel from the point of view of a young child must be very difficult, and so when I see an author pull it off, as Cameron does, I am amazed at the brilliance of the feat.

Claire Cameron was inspired to write this story based on a real bear attack on two campers on Bates Island in 1991. There was never any good explanation for that attack, and so the people who who lived in the area were haunted by their imaginations, about the what-ifs and how-comes of such a thing. Cameron writes in her author’s note:

The Bear is based on my memories of and research into this bear attack. I added the kids.

The Bear is a taut, stark novel about family, and about growing up; about tragedy and courage, and what it means to be brave when you are still too young to understand the definition of such a thing.

This book is fantastic and highly recommended for those readers who love to indulge in literary fiction with a thrilling edge. It will appeal to those readers who loved Room by Emma Donaghue.

Highly recommended.