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Saturday, December 23, 2017

ECHOES OF THE FALL by Richard Weaver

ECHOES OF THE FALL  by Richard Weaver
After a somewhat slow start this novel of the Viet Nam War is tense, dramatic, honest, searing, and a really good read.  Written by one who has been there, the story deals with an idealistic young man dropped into the hellhole that was Viet Nam.  Filled with believable characters and dramatic portrayals of life in the jungle, Lt. Billy Straw’s story manages to be filled with faith, abject failure, stirring heroism, tyrannical bullies, blind obedience, betrayal, innocent love, pettiness, terrifying combat and, finally, friendship and courage.
Anyone who lived through or is interested in the Viet Nam era will find this book presents the conflict in the voice of the young officers and enlisted who struggled with the morality of war.  The plot starts slowly and builds in an ever increasing tempo as the plot reaches its resolution.  Book groups will find a plethora of discussion topics.

5 of 5 stars

Monday, December 18, 2017

CALEB AND KIT by Beth Vrabel

CALEB AND KIT  by Beth Vrabel
Caleb, 12, has Cystic Fibrosis and is not happy about it. The first 50 or so pages of this book are his very own pity party.  Young people of the age group this novel attempts to reach will find the first 50 pages pretty boring.  The tale picks up significantly when Kit enters Caleb’s life. The book switches from detailing all of Caleb’s restrictions and gross symptoms to the actions and interactions of two rebellious teens.  Kit is a free spirit who encourages Caleb to do “what he wants to do.”
If you make it past the first 50 pages, the plot and characters come alive.  Caleb is a real person with needs and desires teens will identify with and preteens will find the mystery that clings to Kit intriguing. Shelly and Patrick are two supporting characters clearly drawn and interesting.
Adults dealing with the trials of chronic illness in teens will find this this book challenging and helpful.  Perhaps they are the real audience for this novel.

3 of 5 stars as juvenile fiction, 4 of 5 for adults 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

THE STARS ARE FIRE by Anita Shreve

THE STARS ARE FIRE  by Anita Shreve
I picked up this book because I thought it was historical fiction about the devastating fire in the Northeast during October of 1947. It is, but first you have to get through the bad sex (there is more bad sex later in the book, too).  The fire is only peripheral to the book. It is really about a young mother finding herself, standing up for herself and her children and finally finding her true love. If that is the book you want to read, this one is well written, the characters are interesting and speak and act like real people.  There is a bit about the fire that is quite terrifying and a bit about the damage fire can cause to a human being.
The psychology part is also well written. I’m not quite sure about how the title fits the story.  I’m still disappointed there is not more about the fire. Oh well, it was a decent read.

3 of 5 stars

Saturday, December 2, 2017

DEAD IN THE WATER by Denise Swanson

DEAD IN THE WATER   by Denise Swanson
If you can suspend credulity and don’t mind at least one cliché per page, this frothy mystery is a fast read good for a lazy afternoon.  More laws are broken than you can shake a stick at (even by the police).
The characters are mostly stock, but are likeable – except for the biker bad guys who have a heart of gold.  The conversations are stilted, but good hearted.
There are only chaste love scenes. The bad words are limited to “geez” and “f***” (yes, there are stars in the print). 
The audience this is written for will love every word – but it is not my cup of tea.

3 of 5 stars (This review managed to contain more clichés than some chapters.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

NO SAINTS IN KANSAS by Amy Brashear

NO SAINTS IN KANSAS  by Amy Brashear
If you are at all familiar with Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD, you will recognize the story Brashear has used as the backdrop for her teen angst novel.  Outsider Carly is a “friend” of Nancy Clutter who is the ultimate insider.  The novel revolves around Carly’s obsession with solving the murders of the Clutter family in 1959 and clearing Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend.
The characters are believable; the situations and conversations spot on.  Capote and Harper Lee make cameo appearances and bring a bit of New York brashness to the Nebraska Midwestern wholesomeness. When Carly’s father is appointed to defend the murderers, she (and her whole family) becomes an instant pariah to the entire town.  Small town morals and infighting come to the fore as the novel progresses.
Although billed as a young adult novel, anyone with an interest in the Clutter murders or small town life will find this novel appealing. Carly is a fictional character, most other characters and situations are based on the actual murders.

5 of 5 stars

THE ROOSTER BAR by John Grisham

THE ROOSTER BAR  by John Grisham
Should you cheer for deliberate, continuing law breakers? I sure did in John Grisham’s latest legal thriller.  A bunch of disgruntled, under educated, over loaned law students attempt to wreak havoc on the dishonest, underhanded, money grubbing multi-billionaire who is behind their failing law school.  The characters are unique and likeable. Although I didn’t follow some of the permutations of finance, it was easy to follow the plot.  The indictment of our legal system and the sympathy with those innocent, and not so innocent, but usually poor, persons caught in the maelstrom of street lawyers and too busy public defenders is clear.
Another well written, legal outing by a master of the genre.

5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ETERNAL LIFE by Dara Horn

ETERNAL LIFE  by Dara Horn
So – was this a good book? It asks so many questions and doesn’t give many answers.  The clear take away is: Be careful what you ask for – you might get it! 

What would it be like to never die? To always return as an eighteen year old when one “life” is ended? What if this was punishment for sin? How many times can a person reinvent themselves and adapt to changing values, science, language, culture, etc, etc. Those are some of the questions this novel tries to answer.  Rachel, a complex character born in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, lives in the pages of this book for centuries as does her co-sinner and lover.  A basic knowledge of Bible history and a smattering of knowledge of the Jewish faith will help the reader grasp the nuances of the tale.  When we meet Rachel in this current age, Rachel is desperate to die – permanently.  

The book is well written, the characters are strong and sympathetic, the situation – well – that is a problem.  First, the God who loves people, and is the God Rachel knows, wouldn’t condemn a penitent to an eternal punishment.  The premise the plot is based on is false.  Second, the probability of one person finding another in ancient times, or even in modern times, is minimal.  So Rachel and Elazar would be unlikely to keep meeting. However, the questions the book asks are important to ponder.

So – suspend belief and enjoy the writing and the characters. It is fiction after all!

4 of 5 stars

Friday, October 27, 2017

THE PLAYER KING by Avi

THE PLAYER KING  by Avi (Edward Wortis)
Can a scullery boy become King of all England?  In 1486, Lambert Simnel is proclaimed Edward, Earl of Warwick and rightful king of England.  This young adult book tells his tale.  Written from a young boy’s point of view, the story is exciting and well told.  Henry Tudor has seized the throne from his young nephew. Was Edward killed or was he allowed to escape and become a scullery boy?  What of those who “taught or reminded” Lambert/Edward of all he needed to know?

Boys will love this tale of intrigue and power, fear and hope.  Girls will also like this tale of poverty to great riches.  Adults who like their history in tiny gulps, told with great skill, will also find this short novelization to their liking.   The story is true: the fear, and joy, and intrigue is also real. 

Avi has won the Newbery Medal, the Yarrow Award and the Golden Kite.


5 of 5 stars for the genre

Monday, October 2, 2017

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

CUTTING FOR STONE  by Abraham Verghese
Although long (perhaps a bit too long), this tale of brothers holds your attention.  When an Italian nun, woefully unprepared for a mission in Africa, turns up at a medical mission in Ethiopia, she is welcomed because of her skill with patients and her ability to serve as nurse to a highly skilled but disconnected surgeon.  After she gives birth unexpectantly to twin boys, the story switches to the boys, raised at the mission, and the “family” at the mission that raises them to adulthood.
World War II and the civil war that later divides Ethiopia into political factions serve as the background for this fascinating tale of medicine, natives, doctors, politicians and family.  Secrets and intrigue abound and are satisfyingly brought to a conclusion as the two boys search for their birth father and fulfilling lives in the midst of great love and great upheaval.

5 of 5 stars

LAROSE by Louise Erdrich

LAROSE  by Louise Erdrich
I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t sustain an interest in these characters or their story. Perhaps it was the jumps from past to present or present to indigenous tale or family to family, I just didn’t care. 
The whole premise of giving away a child (and then taking him back - sort of) just didn’t seem believable.  Emmaline never really seemed to be a “real” person, just a non-entity.  LaRose was too good to be true. Nola was too submerged in grief to be interesting. Maggie was my favorite character and the most believable. I couldn’t understand why anyone would believe anything Romeo said.
I have read other books by Erdrich and liked them. This one was just a disappointment.

3 of 5 stars for good writing, poor story 

Year One: Chronicles of the ONE by Nora Roberts

YEAR ONE: Chronicles of THE ONE     by Nora Roberts (J D Robb)
I had never read either Nora Roberts (or J D Robb) so I was unsure what to expect when I received this advanced reader copy. I assumed she was a romance/chick lit author so was not expecting much.  What I got was a science fiction novel with a detailed, tension filled plot, clear, well-developed characters and a great read. This is the first book of a proposed three book set so I was expecting lots of characters and that is what I got. I kept a running list and thumbnail sketch of the characters as I read. This was very helpful and I hope the author/publisher have a “cast of characters” in the finished novel to keep all the players straight.
There are three different sets of characters and situations as the story develops. These three sets do eventually come together after each meets challenging circumstances as a world-wide virus decimates the population. The virus unleashes death, but also exposes the remaining population to an assortment of human personnas – fairies, wizards, seers, etc. These beings are referred to as uncannies as opposed to the “only human” population, some of whom accept the uncannies and some who wish them only harm and death.  This sets up the ongoing conflict between the various segments of the remaining population and also introduces the idea of “The ONE” who will save the world.
This book is a satisfying novel on its own and does have a logical and satisfying conclusion.  The conflict set up for the remaining two books is similar to a race war, only between “human and Uncanny”.  The writing is clear. The characters are well developed and interesting. The relationships are logical. The virus is believable as are the situations.
Altogether a rich and satisfying world has been set forth filled with interesting characters and a clear plot.  I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

5 of 5 stars

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY  by Sue Grafton
Grafton reaches back into Kinsey’s past for this thriller so you know she will survive.  Two concurrent plots make up the story line.  Ned, a serial killer who wants Kinsey dead, is one, the other is the 10 year old death of a popular teen whose murder was solved – or was it?  The book bounces from one plot to the other, so for me the momentum was lost.  But I like Grafton’s heroine, so that was okay. 
Grafton shows that although the end of the series and the end of alphabet approach, there are still stories and plots to tell.  She has lost none of her story telling skill and the plots are still intriguing. So for Kinsey fans this one is win, win. 
What will be the “Z” title????? And how will the series conclude? Are the only questions remaining.

5 of 5 stars for longevity and continuing deft plotting

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR by Nancy Werlin

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR  by Nancy Werlin

Five misfit teens at a private school find each other at a “Leaders Meetings”. When one of them dies, the fun begins. Are their parents really trying to kill them all???  Why???  Who can they trust? Who is behind all the mysterious happenings?   Not a lot of character development except for the two characters that narrate, but the premise is intriguing.  The action, after a somewhat slow start, is fast paced and for the most part the plot hangs together well.
 
The author shows a good understanding of teens. The tension builds to a good climax. Altogether a quick, fast, engaging read teens will love and adults will also find interesting.


4 of 5 stars

Saturday, August 19, 2017

THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF NORTHERN FIRES by Daren Wang

THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF NORTHERN FIRES  by Daren Wang
There are at least four stories in this one novel.  Mary  and Joe are the two characters that are the most clearly and realistically drawn.  You may need a “cast of characters” to keep all the individuals, families and alliances straight. Several plots seem a bit far-fetched. Here are  three instances.– Southern Dad admitting after years and on his death bed that two of his slaves are his children and disinheriting the white brother:  a slave girl in a brothel for 4 years just walking away with no residual mental damage: a Northern soldier given the option of just walking away from his unit and commission by his commanding officer.
The story line is intriguing and holds your interest.  The love story is well written and believable. The ending is a bit too “pat” and comes out of nowhere.  The author shows great promise in his writing skill. I look forward to seeing his next tale. My copy is an advance readers’ edition and there are many grammatical and typo errors.

3 of 5 stars

Saturday, August 5, 2017

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz

MAGPIE MURDERS  by Anthony Horowitz
This book within a book was frustrating at times. It was difficult to know who was the narrator and which “book” you were in.  There is a difference of font, but it is a slight variation and easily missed.  Susan is a bit too “talky.” I wanted her to just get on with it instead of rehashing all of the clues and suspects.  I thought the Atticus book was by far the better plotted and told of the two tales. It just took forever to get to the finish line.
Andreas seemed to be thrown in just so he could be around to “finish the plot.”  Susan didn’t miss him at all when he was gone for 6 weeks. The end, therefore, seemed too pat a finish.
The depiction of the English village and the various inhabitants was spot on.  I didn’t agree with some of the characterizations of other detectives. I rather like Father Brown and don’t find Miss Marple brusque at all.
So….. Magpie Murders by Alan Conway is well written and tightly plotted. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is too long and too fussy.  Bring back Conway and Pünd!

4 of 5 stars 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

THE KING OF LIES by John Hart

THE KING OF LIES  by John Hart
A master of tightly plotted and well-crafted mysteries has written another winner. John Hart gives us a lawyer accused of his father’s murder, the DA that USED to be his friend, the wife he has never loved, the woman he does love, the cop who would love to see him hang, and, finally, a homeless man and a PI who may be his only friends. Add in a suicidal sister and her lover and the possibility of millions of dollars in inheritance and you have a first class mystery.
I thought I knew who the murderer was by the end of the second chapter. I was wrong. You will be too. But it doesn’t matter because the book is compelling reading.

5 of 5 stars

Sunday, July 30, 2017

REDEMPTION ROAD by John Hart

REDEMPTION ROAD  by John Hart
WOW. John Hart really knows how to write an engrossing, heart pounding, well plotted mystery…… and he can do it with a minimum of sex, blood and vulgar language.  A disgraced cop, a damaged cop, a terrified girl and a bereft child all come together in this tale of violence and corruption. Greed and power fuel the bad guys. You will have to read the book to discover what motivates the good guys. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Who, or what, is redeemed?

5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY by Adriana Trigiani

THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY  by Adriana Trigiani
Way too much navel gazing for me this time around.  I usually enjoy Trigiani’s books, this one just seemed to spend too much time on Valentine’s inner thoughts and self-recriminations. 
You do find out why she chose the title three fourth of the way through the book. A new factory in the US already has a name and she keeps it – kind of clever but not enough to rescue this book.

2 of 5 stars

Saturday, July 22, 2017

RUNAWAY JURY by John Grisham

RUNAWAY JURY   by John Grisham
Not his best!
I usually really like Grisham’s work. This one was boring (too much detail) for the first half.  The second half, when the plot began to be revealed, was better but still not up to his usual interesting plot and characters.  You never really get to know Marlee or Nickolas so you don’t care about them.  You do get to know some of the other jury members, but not enough to care.  You know Rankin, but he is eminently unlikeable.
Maybe I just read this one after it was out of date. Maybe I was just not in the mood, but this was just not very interesting.  Sorry, John.

2 stars out of 5

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD  by Caroline Leavitt
Lucy, 16 and naive, runs away with her High School teacher.  Their life together in an isolated, and isolating, rural area is not what Lucy expected. 
Lucy is portrayed sympathetically. The reader gets to know her intimately through her thoughts and actions. William, the teacher, is not so well known. His back story is presented in back flashes.  His life with Lucy is seen only through her eyes.  Lucy’s sister, a minor but very important character, never gives up searching for her sister.
The reader is constantly aware that “this will not end well”, but the actual ending is dramatic and terrifying.  You will remember this book for a long time.

5 of 5 stars

WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL by David Williams

WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL   by David Williams
This not your usual “end of the world” book.  It is a LOT better!  An Amish community is well prepared when a solar storm knocks out all machinery worldwide.  But the English (anyone not Amish) begin to run out of food and their money becomes worthless, civil society breaks down.  The Amish are called to help. When they do, their closed community is affected as never before.
Written entirely from the viewpoint of Jacob, an Amish farmer who lives near several large cities, the book explores the challenges and fears of a community that wants to avoid “the English” and their worldly ways.  Written with sympathy for both groups and displaying an intimate knowledge of the Amish, the book is a look into the future of a disaster. The one quibble with the book is a weak ending.

4 of 5 stars

TWO NIGHTS by Kathy Reichs

TWO NIGHTS  by Kathy Reichs
Reichs drops Temperance Brennan for a new protagonist, or perhaps two.  Sunday Night, a damaged woman who is former cop, former military, is fleeing her past.  Then she is offered the chance to redeem herself and perhaps heal herself by finding a child kidnapped (or killed) during a terrorist attack.  Darker than the Brennan books, Sunday is a compelling personality. You may find yourself reading just to discover Sunnie’s deepest secrets. Still, the mystery is worthy of Reichs’ considerable talent in plotting and characterization.
At the end of the book there are still questions to uncover leading one to anticipate a second (and third) outing for this detective.

5 of 5 stars

THE LAST CHILD by John Hart

THE LAST CHILD  by John Hart
A compelling read of loss, anger, fear, and murder.  Johnny is just a child, but he is a child searching for his kidnapped twin sister and aided by a detective possessed of the same relentless need to find Alyssa.  Then another young girl goes missing.
The characters are clearly drawn, especially the giant of a child man. The setting is detailed and atmospheric. There are red herrings in plenty, but the plot is tightly controlled and moves along at a ever increasing pace. 
5 of 5 stars 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Alfred and Agnes: The Story of My Immigrant Parents by Frieda Fritz Stiehl

ALFRED and AGNES: The Story of My Immigrant Parents  by Frieda Fritz Stiehl

What a wonderful book!  The author has written a history of her family, especially her father and mother, German immigrants to the United States in the last century. With a plethora of photographs and an unflinching eye on her family’s “characters,” she has written a chronicle for all German-Americans -- all immigrants. Her family comes alive in the pages as each of their lives is detailed. 

She makes these ordinary people, their work, their homes, their villages and, ultimately, their Americanization, come alive for the reader. This is an unforgettable archive of the recent past.

The research is impeccably done. The photographs help orient the reader and bring the narrative to life. Stretching back to the Thirty Years War, coming forward to German Unification, World War I and the devastation on the German psyche by reparations and the rise of Nazism, the Dust Bowl years in the Midwest and finally a dairy farm in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, all are presented in vivid relief.

Anyone who is interested in immigrants, rural life, family dynamics, friendships, farming, pre-industrial life and “how things are made” will find much of interest.  Book groups, especially those with an immigrant or farming interest, will be able to sustain a lengthy discussion.

5 of 5 stars

Saturday, June 24, 2017

THE COLOR OF OUR SKY by Amita Trasi

THE COLOR OF OUR SKY  by Amita Trasi
A bit slow to start but the plot picks up around 100 pages and then moves quickly. 
In 1980’s India, a young rural girl with a devastating background is rescued by a Mumbai businessman. She becomes an unpaid servant in his family and best friend to his daughter who is about the same age. Mukta lives with the family until shortly after the mother in the family dies. Mukta is kidnapped and cannot be found. Years later the daughter begins a search for her long lost friend and servant.
The characters seem to change quite a bit with time; the daughter especially wavers in characterization. The very slow start makes this novel difficult to stick with, but the last half of the book presents an intriguing mystery.  Stick with it and you do get a rich reward.
Book groups will find themselves presented with unpaid servants, unknown relatives, mysterious happenings, uncaring and ineffective police, aid organizations stymied in their attempts to help and an unflattering look at life in India.

3 of 5 stars

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS  by Lisa Wingate
A beautifully written and very disturbing story about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, the woman who ran it, and the children and families who were affected.  Rill, a 12 year old “river rat,” and her brothers and sisters are forcibly removed from their home when their parents are away.  They fall into the hands of Georgia Tann (a real person) and the TCHS(a real facility). 
The characters, real and imaginary, have clear personalities. The action is real and terrifying.  The time and place are vividly shown.
If you have children, or work with them, or just know a few, this tale of real events in the not distant past is horrifying.  Book groups will have a field day with discussions of family, love, poverty, discipline, adoption, heartache, sacrifice and hope.

5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE SPACE BETWEEN THE STARS by Anne Corlett

THE SPACE BETWEEN THE STARS  by Anne Corlett
Space has been conquered and Humans populate many planets. But a devastating virus has depopulated the worlds. Few humans are left.  One human is Jamie, the lonely survivor on her planet.  Her problem is to return to Earth to begin to repopulate the universe.  The few survivors gather and then….
Humans are human – mean, selfish, cruel, selfless, kind, arrogant….  What kind of a world do they want? What will they get? Who will win and who will lose?
The main characters are clearly drawn. The plot is full of twists and turns. The worlds are varied and interesting.  Humans are in charge as they always have been, aren’t they?

4 of 5 stars

EMMA IN THE NIGHT by Wendy Walker

EMMA IN THE NIGHT  by Wendy Walker
This psychological thriller held my attention during the read, but two days after finishing it I have completely forgotten it.  Two sisters disappear one night and three years later only one returns home.
There are lots of lies, innuendoes, miss directions and scary characters.  Emma is quite well drawn. The other characters are known only in retrospect. The plot will keep you guessing until the end.
So, is this a good book? Well it will hold your interest and is a good beach read. Is it profound? Not really.

4 of stars

THE GIRL WITH NO NAME by Diney Costeloe

THE GIRL WITH NO NAME   by Diney Costeloe
Although this book was too long (486 pages), the tale of a Jewish girl sent to England during the Kinder Transport of WWII who loses her memory because of injuries received during the Blitz and spends many months as a “lost child,” is interesting for its portrayal of life in England during the war. Charlotte spends time in London and in a rural area of England.  The differences in quality of life are astounding.  The Blitz was terrifying.  Life in the rural areas was more peaceful, but many hardships were endured.
The side tale of Harry is extraneous and interrupts Charlotte’s more interesting plot.  If you are interested in British life you will like this book.  If you like fast moving plots, skip this one. 

3 of 5 stars 

THE WINDFALL by Diksha Basu

THE WINDFALL  by Diksha Basu
This book is not funny. It is just sad. A bunch of pretentious people trying their hardest to be even more pretentious is just depressing. I would have preferred a book about Mrs. Ray and Uben, somewhat minor characters who serve as foils for the Jha’s and Chopra’s. Mrs. Ray offers a breath of lightness and air in this very arid book. The Jha’s have come into money and are determined that everyone will know how wealthy they are.  They wear uncomfortable clothes, sit on a very uncomfortable sofa and befriend very unlikeable people.  
The writing is okay but totally wasted on this depressing book.

1 of 5 stars

Saturday, May 13, 2017

THE SCRIBE OF SIENA by Melodie Winawer

THE SCRIBE OF SIENNA by Melodie Winawer
A 20th century neurosurgeon is transported to Siena, Italy, in 1346AD where she becomes a scribe and falls in love. That is the short story of this vastly absorbing and intriguing novel.
The characters are fully developed, especially Beatrice, Gabriele, Clara and Accorsi.  The plot is constantly offering a new twist even as the threat of the Bubonic Plague approaches. The flavor of medieval Italy is beguiling, however some of the more “indelicate” and primitive aspects of life are glossed over.  The patterns of daily life in and around a bustling market and monastery are clearly set forth.  The talents needed of a scribe in a society where most had little or no education are delineated.
I don’t think I would make Beatrice’s choices, but the book is a winner.

5 of 5 stars

Saturday, May 6, 2017

BIRDS OF A FEATHER by Jacqueline Winspear

BIRDS OF A FEATHER  by Jacqueline Winspear
A tight plot and likeable characters people this mystery set in post World War I England.  Masie is a detective and a psychologist and uses both to solve interesting and informative crimes.  This one is no different. Hired to find a runaway daughter, Masie stumbles on a serial killer.  Well written, with believable and clearly drawn characters with interesting backgrounds and a spot on sense of time and place, this series gets better as it continues.  While the second in the series, there is no need to have read the first before beginning this one.
5 of 5 stars

WHITE COLLAR GIRL by Renee Rosen

WHITE COLLAR GIRL  by Renee Rosen
Although not as good as Rosen’s earlier WHAT THE LADY WANTS, WHITE COLLAR GIRL tells an interesting and informative tale of what it was like to be a “professional girl” in the 1950’s working for the illustrious Chicago Tribune. Jordan Walsh, hired as a cub reporter under the assumption she was a male, is quickly relegated to the “women’s page”, society weddings and food stories.  Her struggle to be taken seriously is the plot of this tale.
Jordan and the other reporters are well drawn characters.  The working conditions and pay of the 1950’s are laid out clearly as is the politics in Chicago under the first Mayor Daley.  Although occasionally dropping to the level of women’s romantic fiction, the book still offers a wise glimpse into the workings of a big city newspaper and the blatant discrimination against women in the work force.

4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Hideaway by Lauren K Denton

THE HIDEAWAY by Lauren K Denton
Sara, a successful shop owner living in New Orleans and loving it, inherits a rundown Alabama Bed and Breakfast inhabited by a collection of odd seniors.  When her grandmother’s will requires that she live in the B and B while it is renovated, a number of problems crop up.  Will she find love or disappointment –again? Will the house be the beauty she envisions?  Will the unscrupulous developer derail her plans? What was her grandmother really like?
All these questions and more are answered in this charming novel filled with well-developed and quirky characters.  The plot meanders through several plots and subplots. While not a great novel, it is a satisfying read for a summer afternoon.  Sip some sweet tea and enjoy being warmed by this sweet story.  Surprisingly, although printed by a Christian publisher, God barely makes an appearance.

3 of 5 stars

LOVE LET GO by Laura S Truax and Amalya Campbell

LOVE LET GO by Laura S. Truax & Amalya Campbell

In September of 2014 four churches in Chicago received a windfall -- almost two million dollars each!  One of those churches was LaSalle Street Church. With just 350 members and a budget $50,000 in the red, this was a miracle. But what happened next was REALLY a miracle. Each member was given a check for $500 made out to them personally and told to “go do good”.  The $160,000 represented a “tithe” or ten percent of the 1.6 million the church received.  How the remainder was to be used was collectively decided in a year long process.
LOVE LET GO tells the result of that step in faith and how the church as a body, and each member individually, reacted to the windfall.  Told in clear prose the stories of what happened to the cash and what happened to the recipients of such generosity are startling in their counter intuitiveness.
Well written and touching without being maudlin, the book will affect you long after you finish reading. Some takeaways – the “poor” are as, or more, generous than their “wealthy” neighbors, generosity breeds more generosity, people are surprising, sudden “wealth” is disconcerting, abundance is in the eye of the beholder,…..

5 of 5 stars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

THE DRY by Jane Harper

THE DRY  by Jane Harper
A tightly woven mystery that jumps back and forth from the present to the past to solve a long ago drowning and now a family murdered.  Who lied and why? 
Agent Aaron Falk is one of those accused of lying – then and now? Did he? Why did he come back and why does he stay where he is clearly not wanted.
The time jumps are clear by the use of an italic font for the past.  The suspicions will keep you reading. Some of the characters are more fully developed than others. The plot is clear and the red herrings are plentiful. This is an enjoyable and clever book.

4 of 5 stars

THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE by Emma Donahue

THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE  by Emma Donahue
Two couples (one gay and one lesbian, but it is not important or dwelt upon) win the lottery – hence the name – and form a family filled with love,  diverse children and pets.  They use their money for good and live a “perfect” life until one of the parents’ parent needs a home. Grandpa just doesn’t fit – or does he?
Lots of life lessons engagingly presented in this charming tale of family in all its permutations.  Well written with real and delightful characters and situations, this “children’s book” is for adults as well. Donahue, best known for her searing tale ROOM, finds a very different voice in this book filled love, laughter and acceptance.
5 of 5 stars

THE WHISTLING SEASON by Ivan Doig

THE WHISTLING SEASON  by Ivan Doig
The picture of hardships on a “dry” farm in 1909 Montana is clearly shown in this delightful story of motherless family trying to survive and the brother/sister couple who answer their ad for a housekeeper.
Homesteading, social life, family life, shenanigans, love, one room schools and the teachers who make them,  and secrets, especially secrets,  combine to make this a delightful, well-written tale that encompasses humor, fear, sacrifice and boyhood.

5 of 5 stars

VICTORIA by Daisy Goodwin

VICTORIA  by Daisy Goodwin
This book covers only Victoria’s early life and first few years of her long reign.  Goodwin is a writer of historical fiction that borders on “women’s fiction.” She has a tendency to emphasis the more salacious and gossip laden events in the life of the person written about.  That said the book is interesting and well researched.  The life of a young girl manipulated by those around her and surrounded by great wealth and all its accouterments is discussed in great detail. Victoria is saved by the one scrupulous man in her life: Lord Melbourne, her first prime minister.  Early Victorian English society, and the lives of the not-so-privileged, is covered well.   
(The book gives much more detail than the TV series and gives a more accurate portrayal of Victorian England. )

4 of 5 stars

THE MARK OF THE KING by Jocelyn Green

THE MARK OF THE KING  by Jocelyn Green
The premise could have been turned into a great story. This isn’t it.  The writing is pedestrian, the plot turns are spur of the moment and contrived, the “Christian” part seems added on to sell books to the publishers audience.  Skip this one.

1 of 5 stars

SAVE THE DATE by Mary Kay Andrews

SAVE THE DATE  by Mary Kay Andrews
One of the best writers in the “women’s romantic fiction” has written another winner. Floral designer Cara has a morning full of disasters including a supposed dognapping, and then discovers an archrival is opening a competing store in her small town.  Interesting characters, a quickly moving and believable plot keep the action rollicking on.  You will guess the ending long before you get there, but you will enjoy the book anyway.

4 of 5 stars

TRUELUCK SUMMER by Susan Gabriel

TRUELOCK SUMMER   by Susan Gabriel
A white girl, a black boy and a grandmother combine to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse in 1964.  Well described characters, a haunting sense of time and place, and a writer able to convey a sense of humor make this coming of age novel a joy to read for both adults and middle to upper graders. The nuances of a bi-racial friendship are fully described as are the overt and concealed racist actions of the Southern adults.  The statehouse escapade is told in rich and believable detail. 

4 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE GERMAN GIRL by Armando Lucas Correa

THE GERMAN GIRL  by Armando Lucas Correa
The  liner ST. LOUIS left Germany with 900 German Jews bound for Cuba in 1939. Most had left behind their fortune, their property and the heritage of many years. They carried with them signed documents allowing them to stay in Cuba until their visa numbers allowed them to move on to the US, Canada or Mexico.  The ship was not allowed to dock in Havana.
THE GERMAN GIRL follows Hannah, a young girl aboard the St. Louis, from her sheltered life in Germany until her death many years later.  Finely crafted characters people this tale of love and loss through the war, the Revolution in Cuba and the fall of the Twin Towers.  Hannah and her great niece, Anna, carry the plot to its not-quite-satisfying conclusion. Conclusion aside, this is a lovely book that sheds light on a mostly forgotten piece of World War II history and the perfidy of Cuba, the US president and the other leaders of “enlightened” nations.
Book groups will find much to discuss, especially with the anti-immigration mood of current politics.

4 of 5 stars

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

To say Ove was set in his ways would be a gross understatement. But Ove’s wife loved him and he loved her. Life was good until tragedy struck – twice. Now Ove is alone and wishes to kill himself, but life intervenes in the guise of neighbors, friends, enemies and Ove himself.
Strong characters, a sure sense of time and place and a plot that meanders to a well thought out conclusion combine to make a tale well worth reading.  Book groups will find plenty to talk about – lonely people, compromise of principle, suicide, anger, family, friendship, neighborliness, and Ove’s signature statement – “What is right is right” always – maybe.

5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE BEST GRAIN FREE FAMILY MEALS ON THE PLANET by Laura Fuentes

Good family recipes. Beautiful pictures on nearly every page that accurately reflect the recipe (at least as I made them). The ingredients are easy to find in a well-stocked supermarket. There is a good variety of simple and more complicated recipes. The recipes have good “kid appeal.”  Several good recipes for lunch bags for both kids and adults.

4 of 5 stars

Monday, January 23, 2017

Madam President by William Hazelgrove

MADAM PRESIDENT  by William Hazelgrove
I was disappointed.  I was looking forward to this book having recently read another book that referred to Mrs. Wilson’s acting in the President’s stead. 
The facts are all here but the writing is very pedestrian. It reads like a college student’s research paper. There is no attempt to construct a cohesive storyline.  The chapters jump from Ellen (first wife) to Edith (second wife), from before World War I to during the war and other chronological leaps with no linkage or connection to the preceding chapter. There are notations of the year under the chapter headings, but nonetheless, the jumps are disconcerting and unnecessary. 
The book does describe the machinations of Doctor Grayson to keep Edith as the President’s voice; the disconnect of Vice President Marshall who made it very clear he didn’t want the job of presiding over the country; and the frustration of the politicians who were quite deliberately keep from any contact with the ailing and incapacitated President.  As a result Wilson’s dream of a functioning League of Nations was lost.
Such a shame. This could have been a riveting and frighteningly true tale of politics, illness, laws, privacy, the League of Nations, ambition, wifely concern, the public’s right to know,  medical practice and chicanery. It wasn’t.

2 of 5 stars