Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Between 2005 and 2009, in a Mennonite community called the Manitoba Colony in a remote part of Bolivia, women and girls were systematically attacked, sexually assaulted, raped and abused. Some of them who were pregnant at the time of their violent assault lost their babies, others as young as three years old were raped, and many women were raped repeatedly. Their rapists used an animal anesthetic spray that caused their victims and other family members in the home to become unconscious and not remember the assault, but in the morning there was evidence that the assault took place- blood, dirt, semen and bruises.  Eventually one of the men was caught and he named eight other men and after a lengthy trial in Bolivia, the men were convicted in 2011. However, in 2013, while those men were still in jail, it was reported that similar assaults were still taking place in the Manitoba Colony. https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-48265703

This novel is based on these real life events.  In this version however, the men of the community are planning to go to the city and pay the bail so that the accused men can return to the community while they await their trial. While they are gone, a group of the women gather and try to decide what to do in the face of this dire news.  Should they stay and forgive these men? Should they stay and fight against the injustice and culture that allowed this to happen to them? Or should they go, leaving the safety of the colony behind for some unknown place? These women enlist the services of the colony’s school master to sit with them and take down their conversation and translate it into English so there will be a record of their deliberations. The novel, then revolves around the discussions the women have over the course of three days.

Toews is so effective at bringing these women to life: Ona Friesen, the spinster who is pregnant now as the result of her  rape,  Agata, Ona’s mother, Salome, Ona’s sister whose three year old daughter was raped, Greta Loewen whose rapist covered her mouth with such force that he dislodged almost all her teeth,  Mariche Loewen, Mejal Loewen and two teenagers Autje Loewen and Neitji Friesen. As they wrestle with this life changing decision, they must also define what is just and what their faith requires of them, but there are also lighthearted moments where we hear stories of Salome’s horses, or the stories of their life in the community. By listening to their meandering conversation we get a sense of the magnitude and scope of what they are asking of themselves and each other as they discuss their options. All the while, August, our note taker and narrator gives us insights into the lives of these women who despite their their limited understanding of the world; they have never seen a map, never learned Spanish and never learned to read or write, still carry within themselves a profound wisdom and a longing for justice.

Toews has created one of the most memorable books about women I have ever read. Toews, who is a product of the Mennonite culture and tradition, knows these women intimately. She understands the rhythms of their lives and the limitations under which they live. I was so resistant to reading this book because the subject matter seemed so heavy, but I now regret not reading it sooner. This book has something very powerful and empowering to say in this age of #METOO, because it is in fact a manifesto written by a group of women who refuse to be victims and take control of their own lives and we all need more more examples of that kind of courage!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren, Sharon and Keith.

Book Study Worthy? YES

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

During WWII, the men left for the war leaving behind the women and children behind.  Although many books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written about the heroism of the men fighting at the front, the stories of the women who remained behind, often in extremely difficult circumstances, have been largely ignored. In The Nightingale, Hannah tells these women’s stories and shines a light on their amazing courage and sacrifice.

1939, Carriveau, France. Vianne has tried desperately ignore the signs of war, but now her husband has received his papers and he must leave to fight the Germans. Vianne knows the cost of war, as her father came back from WWI a changed man-withdrawn, angry and mostly drunk. So for Vianne, her husband’s departure for war fills her with dread and uncertainty, as she wonders how the war will have changed him. Soon after he leaves the Germans occupy their town and she learns that her home has been requisitioned by a German officer, Captain Beck and she and her young daughter must either live with the enemy or lose her home and property. As the war continues, Vianne learns this was just the beginning of the many impossible choices she must make in order to survive the war and protect those she loves.

Recently kicked out of by her father from their home in Paris, Isabelle tries to make her way back to Vianne and her family. At eighteen, impulsive and reckless, Isabelle falls in love with Gäetan, a young idealistic young man she meets on the road and together they decide that they will join the Resistance. But when they arrive at Vianne’s, Gäetan betrays his promise to Isabelle, and leaves her behind.  Undeterred, Isabelle quickly joins the local Resistance, but soon realizes that her outspokenness and her work with the Resistance are endangering her sister and niece. Fearing for their lives, she moves back to Paris and continues her work with the Resistance, risking her life over and over again.

Based on true stories of courageous women who worked for the Resistance throughout Europe during WWII, Hannah has created a sweeping tale of love and courage.  Her profound, empathetic, insights capture the responses of two very different women in very different circumstances, having to confront their own morality and calling forth from within, the courage to do what is right. This is a story of the strength of women; their durability and resiliency in the face of  incredible danger, and their will to survive in the face of enormous odds!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren, Ken and Keith.

Book Study Worthy? YES

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Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance, Suspense, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

It is a dark winter’s night. All the locals are gathered at the old inn telling stories, and exchanging news, when suddenly the door swings open letting in the cold wind and rain. A stranger stands in the doorway holding a small, beautiful child in his arms. The child appears dead and her body is taken to another room, while the man who brought her in is attended to by the local wise woman. The man says he found the child in the Thames, rescued her, and brought her to the inn. It is not his child, nor does he know to whom the child might belong. The wise woman after finishing with the man, checks in again on the child and this time she finds a a very slow pulse and then the girl takes a breath and she lives.

The villagers are stunned. Was it a miracle or magic? Who is this child that landed on the doorstep of their village? Soon three families step forward to claim the child. A young mother who lost their daughter to the river two years before is convinced that this girl is their child, although her husband is not quite so sure.  Another family from a neighboring town have just heard that their son had a liaison with a local girl but refused to marry her even though she was pregnant. Believing the child is their son’s they are willing to take her into their family. And finally a local woman is convinced that this young child is her sister.

The child regains her strength but never speaks. She seems to be intelligent, and can hear and seems to understand when spoken too, but is mute, disengaged and solitary and the mystery around her deepens. The villagers are intrigued and speculate on who her family might be and where she might have come from. As time passes secrets are revealed, plots are exposed, and a heinous crime subverted but only just in the nick of time, leaving behind a story that the locals will tell at the inn for many years to come.

Setterfield has written one of the most atmospheric, profound and entrancing book I have read in a long time. From the moment the man stands in the doorway of the inn you are hooked and are completely in her power as she gently guides you through the eddies and currents of her tale. Carefully plotted, full of nuance and empathy, this story of a lost and found child will tug at your heart and reaffirm your faith in the basic goodness of people.

Brenda’s Rating: *****( 5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Romance, Suspense | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

What happens to a young boy on the cusp of manhood when his mother is assaulted and almost killed? What happens to a family who must cope while their mother and their wife tries to heal from the physical and emotional trauma of being sexually assaulted and almost burned? What happens to a community, to family, friends and neighbors when something like this happens to your relative, your friend or your neighbor? What if it happens to a Native American woman and family and the crime occurs on Native American land? What if this crime is racially motivated?

Joe and his family live on Ojibwe territory in North Dakota. His dad is a judge on the reservation and his mom is a tribal enrollment officer for the tribe. It is a Sunday afternoon, and Joe’s mom has gone to her office to pick up a file, but as time passes Joe and his father become worried and go looking for her. After looking and not finding her they return home where they find her, barely conscious, beaten and bleeding, sitting in her car in front of the house.

They rush her to the hospital, the police, tribal and otherwise are called, and an investigation is started. But Joe’s mother can barely speak, and seems to remember almost nothing of what happened. After she comes home, she remains in the bedroom, staring at the wall, hardly eating and barely talking.

The investigation grinds on but goes nowhere. Joe and his friends decide they might be able to  find out who did this on their own and so they begin to look for clues. But what Joe finds is disturbing: an empty gas can thrown in the lake which leads to the discovery of a car at the bottom of the lake. As Joe digs deeper and the police seem to do nothing about this crime against his mother, he decides to take matters into his own hands committing to extracting justice or at least revenge, if justice cannot be found, for this crime that has forever changed his family.

Erdrich  has written a powerful and emotionally complex, many layered story, but her prose is spare, simple and honest. Joe as narrator is a delight, and Erdrich captures all the playful, passionate, complexity of a twelve year old boy who must grow up very quickly after a devastatingly tragic event. At once both suspenseful and soulful, this 2012 winner of the National Book Award, has been described as a literary equivalent of To Kill A Mocking Bird, since Erdrich has lifted up another part of the American experience where the dream of equality and justice for all has not yet been realized.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Book Study Worthy? YES

Read in ebook format.




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The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Ian Graham should have been happy, but instead he felt empty. He and his partner, Tony Rodomovsky had just  caught another German war criminal who was now on his way back to Germany to face justice. Ian had been a journalist covering the Nuremberg trials but once they were over he began using his skills to uncover other war criminals who had somehow escaped justice. He and Tony’s small London office had gained quite a reputation for their efforts to track down and unmask these men and women who had taken on new identities and were trying to escape justice. But there was one elusive war criminal that Ian just couldn’t find and this obsession was the reason he took no joy from his most recent success.  The Huntress, as she was called had been the mistress of a German officer in Poland and she was a ruthless killer who killed Jews, children and POWs in cold blood. Ian is determined to find her and bring her to justice.

Nina Borisovna Markova, had been barely alive when she was found by the Polish Red Cross, after months of trying to evade the German army. Emaciated, filthy, sick and coughing it was a miracle she had survived. With her she brought news of a young English soldier, Sebastian Vincent Graham, Ian’s younger brother who died in the war, a victim, according to Nina, of The Huntress.  Now fully healed she has shown up at Ian’s office wanting to help Ian and Tony find The Huntress, who lives in Nina’s nightmares.

Jordan McBride was certain her father is in love. He had been dating a young German widow, Anneliesse Weber who has a child named Ruth. Jordan was so happy that her father had found someone new as he had been lonely since her mother died, going through the motions of by taking care of his antique shop in downtown New York, and taking care of Jordan. Now that she is about to graduate from high school, she hopes that with this new interest in his life, he might reconsider and let her go on to college so she can study photography. It was an exhilarating thought!

But as much as Jordan wants to love her new stepmother, things don’t seem quite right. There is Ruth, who seems so traumatized by her experiences in the war, but her stories don’t seem to match up with the story Anneliesse has told Jordan and her father about what happened to them. There is the strange medal that Jordan saw accidentally, and the strange unguarded look on Anneliesse’s face that Jordan captured in a photo. Is she imagining these things? Is she jealous? Uncertain and disturbed, Jordan begins to confide in a new employee at the antique shop named Tony Rodomovsky.

Kate Quinn is an excellent story teller, who knows how to weave these varied and interesting story lines and characters together in a creative and unique way. The back stories of each character allows us to see them as individuals and then as the story lines come together the interactions between the characters is that much richer. Meticulously researched, with fully realized, interesting characters and careful plotting which raises the suspense at every turn makes this is a book that is hard to put down!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.



Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Romance, Spy/Covert Operatives, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Improvement by Joan Silber

How do our decisions reverberate across space and time? What happens when we choose one course of action over another? Do our decisions even matter? Joan Silber explores these questions and more in her award winning book, Improvement, and her conclusions will comfort and surprise you!

Reyna, a young single mother, lives with her son in New York.  Boyd, her boyfriend is serving time in Rikers Island and when Reyna goes to visit him she often asks her Aunt Kiki to watch her son. Reyna and Boyd have gotten very close over the course of his imprisonment and although Boyd is not perfect, Reyna has hope that he might really be the one! Kiki, who has traveled extensively in Europe and Turkey, married young and had to fight to regain herself again,  has now settled in New York and watches Reyna’s  growing attachment to Boyd with love and concern.

When Boyd gets out of prison he seems to settle into life pretty easily. He has a job and he and Reyna see each other quite often, while her young son idolizes Boyd.  But suddenly Boyd begins talking about a cigarette smuggling gig that some friends have set up. Soon, without even realizing what is happening, Reyna finds herself agreeing to help drive on one of their runs, and then at the last minute, for the sake of her son, she backs out and refuses to make the run. That small decision causes a cascade of effects that touch those she knows and loves but also reaches out beyond to those she doesn’t even know.

Winner of the 2018 Penn/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Silber takes us on a journey of discovery, exploring the ways our lives are entwined and affected by others. She dissects Reyna’s decision and shows us the ripple effects in the pond of life that we might not even foresee or even imagine. By using intertwined story lines that move back and forth in time, we begin to see the interconnections in the lives of these characters and see that same truth in our own lives. Silber writes with gentleness and lightness even as she explores these topics like, love, commitment and self discovery. Her characters are endearingly fallible, doing their best in a complicated, less than perfect world just like all of us. Silber seems to want to comfort us, even while opening our eyes to the ways we are connected, letting us know that we are never truly alone.

Brenda’s Rating ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to Sharon, Marian, Lauren, and Keith.

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format



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Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Sometimes a book surprises you by the depth of the world it creates, the uniqueness of its characters, and the grace and fluidity of its story telling. James has created one of those books! In a world unlike any other, rich traditions and stories that seem to come from what might be Africa and yet not Africa at all flow into a rich wonderful tapestry. In it we meet two powerful and unique characters: a shape shifter (man and leopard,) and Tracker, the one hired to find what is lost.

Tracker is known far and wide as the one who finds that which is lost, so  it is not surprising that he is asked to find the boy. What is unique, though, is that the boy has been lost for three years. As the Tracker begins following the faint trail only he can smell, an unlikely assortment of characters join the search including the shape-shifter, Black Leopard, who Tracker knew previously, a giant a witch, and a swordsman. As they follow the boy, they encounter opposition from powerful unknown forces, difficult terrain and magical creatures that threaten and complicate their quest.

As the journey gets more and more dangerous Tracker begins to wonder about the boy they are searching for. Who is this he and why do so many people want to prevent him from being found? As Tracker moves ever closer to discovering those answers, he must determine, who is telling the truth and who is lying while also trying to confront the forces that seem determined to prevent him from fulfilling his task.

Rich and powerful this book is not your ordinary fantasy novel! It is full of graphic images of  violence, bloodshed sex and eroticism and contains graphic “X” rated language. But somehow it all works in a wild and strange way. James, the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” knows how to build suspense, and gives us entertaining and wonderfully original characters who almost leap off the page with life. This is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to see where Tracker and his band will lead us next!

Brenda’s Rating:****( 4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Ken, Keith and Marian.

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Detective novel, Fantasy, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Series, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , , | Leave a comment