Tuesday, December 11, 2018

PAPER WIFE by Laila Ibrahim

PAPER WIFE by Laila Ibrahim Mei Ling is the younger daughter in a newly impoverished family. When her sister is betrothed to a complete stranger, Mei is happy it is not her and unhappy to see her sister leving China for the United States. Very quickly, everything changes when Mei Ling’s sister becomes ill and Mei Ling is forced to impersonate her sister and marry the stranger. Well written and researched, this novel tells of “wives,” “daughters,” “sons and cousins” paid for and brought to the US as “paper relatives” in the early 1920’s. It has become impossible to emigrate to the US and China is suffering greatly. This subterfuge to bring impoverished Chinese to the US often results in prostitution and servitude. Mei Lings fears are not unfounded. Ibrahim has written an engrossing tale of one such “paper wife.” Her characters are clearly drawn, the sights, smells and inhabitants of San Francisco’s Chinatown are related in intimate detail. A mesmerizing tale that book groups will love. 5 of 5 stars

A RAY OF PITCH BLACK by Katherine Hayton

A RAY OF PITCH BLACK  by Katherine Hayton

This fun middle grade tale about three 13 year-olds who find a book of magic spells and manage to conjure up several ghosts is a quick read.  The three girls are typical teens who show a lot of resourcefulness, empathy and genuine friendship.

The tale is implausible but well written. The plot is interesting and has several quirks that will keep you guessing. Parents (who aren’t put off by magic) can rest easy with this tale of murder, friendship and empathy.

4 of 5 stars


WHEN WINTER COMES by V A Shannon The fictional narrator of this account of the doomed Donner Party is never named, but is a good scribe as she records the events that lead up to the fateful decision to take the “shortcut” that will leave them stranded for the winter in the high Sierras. The author notes at the end detail the facts of that winter. Well researched and well written, this novel is a good addition to the many accounts of the Donner Party. This one has the benefit of relating the feelings, decisions and character of those unfortunate enough to be part of the group. The narrator is one of the few to survive. She relates some incidents that other accounts gloss over or leave out. 5 of 5 stars

VOX by Christina Dalcher

VOX by Christina Dalcher The United States has been taken over in an election by seriously ultra conservative politicians. Laws have been passed restricting females to just 100 words per day and enforce this directive with punishing electric shocks for every word beyond the allotment. The novel starts with this interesting premise and then has a rather boring first 100 pages as we learn about the wife who is quite an acclaimed scientist and feminist but is married to a go-along, get-along politician husband high up in the conservative government. The plot finally gets going when she is coerced by the government to restart her science project and discovers a sinister plot against women all over the world. The last two thirds of the book is an interesting and well plotted thriller. Overall, readers who are looking for another “Handmaids Tale” will be disappointed. Readers looking for a thriller and make it through the first third will be pleased. The characters are clearly defined and remain in character for the entire book. The premise and resulting government action is full of holes but with a suspension of reality, the novel as a whole is satisfying. 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR by Susan Meissner Well written and well researched this book is one that should not be missed. Mariko and Elise, both American citizens, meet at an internment camp for aliens suspected of being Nazi or Japanese sympathizers because their fathers have been wrongly accused. Although one is German and one Japanese, they forge a friendship across the divide. The teens and their families are believable and fully developed. The atmosphere of the camp in hot, dusty Texas has a climate that reflects both the weather and the resentment and resignation of those interned. Both families are involuntarily “repatriated” to countries under siege during the final terrifying days of the war. The interning of American citizens is clearly shown as is the fear the war wreaks upon ordinary citizens in a war zone. In light of the current debates on immigration, this book sheds light on an aspect most American never consider – what happens to ordinary people caught in untenable situations. Book groups will find much to ponder here. Parent/child book groups might find a companion book in a YA book by Monica Hesse. THE WAR OUTSIDE covers the same camp and some of the same incidents in a manner more appropriate for middle graders. 5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse

THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse Texas was the site of Crystal City – an internment camp for “Enemy Aliens” during World War II. Crystal City was for those people of German, Japanese or Italian ancestry that the government believed might be spies. Haruku and Margot both accompanied fathers who were suspects. They lived on opposite sides of the camp but became friends – sort of. This story gives a glimpse into the reality of their lives and that of the others interned at Crystal City. They were American teenagers, but because someone in their family was suspect, they had been uprooted and sent to a hot, dusty, ill equipped prison. They were enemies to each other and to their country. Hesse writes clearly of young people confused and conflicted and does it extremely well. Margot and Haruku live and breathe. They become friends - and enemies. They trust each other - and break that trust. We learn of their families – their love, their politics, their fears, their coping – and their NOT coping. Engrossing, terrifying, moving, sweet and bittersweet – all these and more. Ultimately a story of betrayal and forgiveness, THE WAR OUTSIDE is thought provoking and well worth reading. 5 of 5 stars

Friday, October 19, 2018


THE LINES WE LEAVE BEHIND by Eliza Graham Maud/Amber is a young woman in a secure mental facility charged with a crime. As she speaks with her psychiatrist we learn what led her to the hospital as she “remembers” the past. She was a special agent for the Allies in the Balkans during WWII ….. or was she? Told in flashbacks, this very interesting tale winds itself out in drips and drabs. The infighting between the Partisans, the Chetniks, the Home Guard and the Germans for control of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia is clear as Maud/Amber carries out her assignments. Modern day ethnic strife is foreshadowed as the various parties and their doctrines become clear. The land and peoples of the Balkans are well developed and made clear. The personalities of the various players clash believably. Well researched and well written, this tale is enjoyable and engrossing as the reader tries to determine what is true and what is result of trauma. Family ties, partisanship, politics, spying, secrets, women in war, and mental health treatments are all topics for discussion by book groups. 4 of 5 stars

Friday, October 12, 2018

A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN by Therese Anne Fowler

A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN  by Therese Anne Fowler

Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont was anything but a well- behaved woman. Left near penniless as she approached marriageable age in the 1870’s, she set her aim for a wealthy man.  William Vanderbilt, a younger son in the ultra-wealthy but socially ignored family, caught her eye, as she caught his.  This fictionalized account of her life as a philanthropist, sufferage activist, society hostess and intelligent, opinionated woman is a bit too long, but is vastly entertaining.

Alva, her sisters, her children, her husbands, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and others of upper crust New York society are clearly, and unsparingly, drawn. The day to day life of Gilded Age society is the backdrop and conformingly repressive constraint her friends and “frenemies” endured. Told with clear eyed sympathy, the novel follows Alva from age 17 to her death in 1933.
Book groups will enjoy discussing the differences between women today and the women who found themselves painted, pampered, polished, packaged and utterly controlled by their fathers and husbands.

4 ½ of 5 stars

Thursday, October 4, 2018

EVERLASTING NORA by Marie Miranda Cruz

EVERLASTING NORA  by Marie Miranda Cruz

Nora, 12, lives in her father’s grave house in a Philippine cemetery.  Written for middle graders, this novel will be eye opening to adults as well.

Nora and her mother have descended into crushing poverty and survive because Nora makes and sells flower garlands to visitors to other graves.  Her friend JoJo, 13, and his grandmother assist as well as they can when Nora’s mother becomes quite ill.

Nora is well defined as a normal child who wants normal things. American preteens will easily identify with her and also with JoJo, a child who has never attended school and is his grandmother’s support.  The “bad guys” (who are truly bad) are somewhat glossed over. 

Friendship, initiative, caring, hope, forgiveness, determination are all traits exhibited by those Nora learns to trust. A heartwarming story that is ideal for a parent/child book club.

5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
Which would you rather do? Die by freezing, starving or being mauled to death by “Alaska” or die at the hands of your abusive, PTSD addled father?

 Hannah has written a tense, terrifying love story. But is it a story of love for the beautiful wildness of Alaska or the wildly beautiful love of a father for his wife and daughter?

 Leni’s father has decided the family will move to Alaska where he will finally be happy. They are woefully unprepared for the rigors of homesteading in America’s last wilderness. Taken under the wings of Large Marge, a successful homesteader and formerly successful big city prosecutor, the family quickly learns to be relatively self-sufficient. Leni learns to love Alaska and the “wild” life style her father has decreed for the family. Unfortunately, Leni’s father is friend and compatriot with Mad Earl, a rabid anti-government survivalist. Matthew, a classmate of Leni’s, becomes her only friend.

 The wildness of nature and the difficulties of surviving in Alaska during the 1970’s and 80’s is made excruciating clear. The terror of living with an out of control abuser suffering from PTSD after surviving as a POW in Viet Nam is also clear. The relationships between mother and daughter, mother and father, Leni and Matthew, father and Mad Earl, among others, are clear and determine the vector and velocity of the plot.

 5 of 5 stars

Sunday, September 30, 2018


DUEL TO THE DEATH by J A Jance I love Jance’s Brady and Beaumont mysteries, but am not so enamored of the Ali Reynolds series. Consequently, I have read a few of the series, but not all. I picked this one up because I was in need of a book and away from home. This one was available, so I gave it a try. I liked it – a lot! Ali is now married and no longer a journalist. She and her husband, along with a few others, run a cyber security firm. They find themselves in the midst of a mafia/drug lord war when their unassuming, slightly shy, perhaps autistic, computer genius employee finds himself suddenly possessed of a fortune in bitcoins – likely all the profits of said drug lord/mafia kingpins. The twists and turns of this – how to get rid of said bitcoins without going to jail or getting killed – makes a great mystery. The computer stuff is understandable. The danger is palpable. Now I want to go back and read the preceding novels to discover the character development I missed. 5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Joanna is on maternity leave, but her responsibilities as Sheriff keep getting in the way. A group of teenagers find, and then hide, a human skull. When a parent discovers the skull, Joanna’s leave comes to a screeching halt. A serial killer is on the loose. In the meantime, Joanna is reading her long dead father’s diaries and discovering traits she would rather not know. 
Jance writes intelligent mysteries carried by her carefully drawn and fully fleshed out characters. You could read this as a stand alone, but the nuances of plot and character will be better understood if you are familiar with the series. 
5 of 5 stars

Thursday, September 13, 2018

THE WRONG CHILD by Patricia Kay

THE WRONG CHILD  by Patricia Kay

In the midst of a blizzard, in an understaffed hospital and when the only labor and delivery nurse has  a heart attack and dies, two infants are switched.  Years later the awful truth comes out. This tale tells what happens next.

Several startling instances of happenstance and the plot thickens.  The story is interesting. The characters have life to them. The plot is a tearjerker – but then you knew that, right?

There is no foul language. There is one sex scene.  Altogether, not a bad way to spend a lazy afternoon or two.

3 of 5 stars

Monday, September 10, 2018


The Daisy Children  by Sofia Grant
I’m disappointed in this one. I was imagining a treatment of the tragic explosion in a Texas school that killed most of the children in the town of New London 1937. Unfortunately this tale was only superficially about that and much more about a dysfunctional family and the unfortunate choices they made.  The “love” story is barely there, the characters are stock, the story could take in Anytown, USA.
The one redeeming feature is the twist that is revealed in the last few chapters. Is it worth reading the other 300 pages?  I don’t think so.
2 of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


A young woman living in Holland during the Nazi Occupation is forced into smuggling and utilizing the Black Market in order to feed her family and friends.  One of her “regulars” asks her to find “the girl in the blue coat” and that is where the mystery begins.  Secrets, betrayals, lost friendships, disappearances, dead lovers and danger on all sides makes this a compelling and tense read.  Everyday life in an occupied city is made real and horrific.
Although billed as Young Adult, this novel will appeal to anyone interested in WWII and the resistance, especially in Holland.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, August 4, 2018

THE INDIGO GIRL by Natasha Boyd

THE INDIGO GIRL  by Natasha Boyd
In South Carolina in 1736, 16 year old girls were expected to be sweet, compliant and marry well. Eliza Lucas was anything but the normal Low Country girl. She was intelligent, educated and ambitious.  Eliza was left to run to her father’s three plantations while he pursued his military career and jeopardized the family’s wealth and position.
When her family faced financial ruin it was left to Eliza to coerce an arrogant, incredulous male “consultant” and to befriend the family’s slaves to help her discover how to produce indigo dye all while discouraging suitors for her hand (and property).  Her solution – teach the slaves to read (illegal) if they helped her.
Well researched and well written, the 5 years Eliza Lucas Pinckney ran her father’s plantations did not save her family’s lands but did secure South Carolina’s place in world trade and provided the fledgling United States with two astute politicians. Eliza’s actual letters to her friends, father and lawyer are interspersed throughout.
5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


THE TWELVE-MILE STRAIGHT  by Eleanor Henderson
Oh my, incest, moonshine, sharecropping, KKK, lynching, twins (one white, one black), chain gangs and everything else bad about 1920’s Georgia. It is all here along with a meandering timeline, numerous plots and sub-plots and the “N” word.  If this sounds exhausting – it is.  There is just soooo much going on in this 540 page tome that it is WORK to read it.
There is an interesting and valuable story here. The characters include a moonshining sharecropper with a problematic background, a teenaged daughter and a teenaged live-in black “maid.”  Juke (the sharecropper/moonshiner) hires a black male farmhand. The farmhand has a relationship with both daughter and maid. Daughter has a relationship with the farm owner’s  son that ends badly. Both teens are pregnant. The farmhand is lynched and dragged down the twelve-mile straight roadway to the delight (for a time) of the entire town. The son is accused of the murder and disappears – and that is just the beginning section of the book.
The characters are clearly drawn. The time and place are well defined.  The situations are believable. But the whole thing is sooo long and the time meanders from before to after and back again with no clear delineation.  The final resolutions are clear and satisfying.  Dates at the start of each event would be helpful. A little (a lot?) of editing would help.
3 stars for length and confusing timeline

Monday, July 16, 2018

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE by Karen Witemeyer

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE  by Karen Witemeyer
Three orphans form their own “family” in turn of the century Texas after a train wreck leaves them alone.  All are “cursed’ in some way. Twelve years after the train wreck finds them settled and succeeding until a stranger appears who wants to cause them harm. 
There is off screen violence toward women and several murders/attempted murders. There is no foul language. The love scenes are limited to kisses.
The main character, Evangeline, is fully developed: the others less so. The place is Texas but could be anywhere. The plot is interesting although the end too convenient and too short, while other parts of the novel drag.  The author tells us – repeatedly – exactly how the characters think and feel.
For the genre – Christian mystery romance – the book is one of the better written and plotted.
3 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 21, 2018

THE HIGH SEASON by Joan Blundell

THE HIGH SEASON  by Judy Blundell
This is definitely “women’s fiction.” The writing is okay. The characters are okay. The plot is slow moving and heavy on feelings. The house plays a big part in both the feelings and the plot. You will figure out the ending as soon as Adeline shows up.
Not much here. If you like to read for immediate pleasure and don’t mind stock characters and stock plot, you will like this book. If you are looking for a “mind stretch”, this one is not for you.  It is a little long.
3 of 5 stars

SHELTER IN PLACE by Nora Roberts

SHELTER IN PLACE  by Nora Roberts

SHELTER starts out as a horrific massacre in a shopping mall but quickly becomes a combination love story (an intelligent love story) and a thrilling search for a murdering mastermind.

Roberts has a genius for writing characters her readers fall in love with. SHELTER is no exception. Simone, CICi and Reed, the lead characters, are richly endowed with personality complete with interesting quirks.  The supporting characters, while not as intimately drawn, are fully developed.  The Maine coast is a major player in the tale. You will hear the waves crash and smell the flowers.   Two of the main characters are artists and their talent is clear from the text as are their methods of expression.

The plot is terrifying and builds to a crescendo of a climax.

Readers of mysteries will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot. Readers of love stories will watch as the characters grow into a satisfying relationship.  If you are squeamish, you may find the violence off putting, but it is necessary to the story line. The sex is present, but not overdone or gratuitous. Foul language is present, but, again, fits with the character and story line and is not omnipresent. 

Altogether an enjoyable read.
5 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 14, 2018


SALT HOUSES   by Hala Alyan
The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef,  reminisces, “the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away.”  His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon.  One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or……..

And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage?  Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves?

Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose.  Her characters live and breathe.  The sense of place is palpable.  Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.

You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family’s migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.

Lots for book groups to discuss here.
5 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 7, 2018

THE PATCHWORK BRIDE by Sandra Dallas Dallas

Dallas writes characters especially well. They live and breathe as naturally as you and I. In this book , a modern young woman is a runaway bride, unsure of her love and commitment. The woman she runs to tells her the story of a turn of the century runaway bride – one who runs three times!  This story within a story is the “real” story of this book. 
The tension grows as the young woman falls in love (or like) and then is disillusioned each time.  We watch her character change while she grows in maturity as heartache after heartache consumes her. Each time she (and we) learn a bit more about her character, her needs, the time she lives in and the men she chooses, or who choose her.  The modern runaway learns as well.   The middle of the book drags a bit, but stick with the story. There is a surprising twist near the end. The opportunities open to women and the strictures they live under are  presented with sympathy for the characters,  the place and the time.
This is not Dallas’s best, but it is a satisfying read.  You will be glad you stuck with it.
4 of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

VARINA by Charles Frazier

VARINA  by Charles Frazier
The person is eminently interesting – the wife of the Confederate President. The era is interesting – the decades before, during, and after the American Civil War.  The episodes are fascinating – a Southern white woman raising an enslaved child as her own: the escape of fugitives in a devastated land: the marriage of a 17 year old to a 40 year old.  So why didn’t I like it?
The episodes are just that – episodes that jump from decade to decade with no cohesion.  The story is not a story – there is no plot.  The tempo and pacing are erratic at best. 
BUT… the writing is wonderful. The conclusions are insightful.  The characters are real and well presented.
YOU might like it. I didn’t.
3 of 5 stars

Thursday, May 17, 2018

THE HIGH TIDE CLUB by Mary Kay Andrews

THE HIGH TIDE CLUB   by Mary Kay Andrews
Andrews is one of my favorite “women’s lit” authors. Her characters speak and act like real people. Her plots are intricate and satisfying. Her settings are richly described. The tempo is fast enough to keep up interest and yet slow enough for a well-paced read.  HIGH TIDE CLUB does not fail!

Murder, illegitimate babies, broken engagements, crotchety old ladies, absent boyfriends, a private island, a mean sexual predator,  a vast fortune, a dying heiress and skinny dipping under a full moon  -- what more could one want in the ultimate beach read.

This one is fun and will keep you guessing till the last pages, although one of the many mysteries I was able to figure out early on.
5 of 5 stars

THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish

THE WEIGHT OF INK  by Rachel Kadish
This somewhat disturbing tale is the story of a young Jewish girl living in exile in Holland (Amterdam) in 1660 when tragedy forces her to live with an aging Rabbi in England.  Ester’s own father, also a rabbi, had encouraged Ester’s education in defiance of community norms.  In England, Ester continues her education and is employed as scribe to her protector rabbi . Unbeknown to her employer, she embarks on a philosophical correspondence with a number of renowned philosophers including Benedict Spinoza. The interwoven twentieth century tale concerns an aging professor who finds her letters and is determined to publish them.

The characters are skillfully defined and brought to life on the pages.  The political climates of Jewish diaspora and England between Cromwell and the renewed monarchy are clear.  The tension between the rival philosophies is palpable.  Although VERY long, the well-researched story holds one’s attention. Ester is a likeable, although obstinate and often misguided, personage.  Her plight will resonant with today’s feminist sympathizers
4 of 5 stars because of the 600 page length.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

HOT MESS by Emily Belden

HOT MESS  by Emily Belden
Well, the title is correct – this book is a hot mess. If you can get past the f bombs and constant sex, one dimensional characters and thin plot, there might be a half way decent short story good for an hour or two on a long plane ride. 
So, what is good about this book.  There are complete sentences.  There is a plot with a beginning, middle and, thankfully, a conclusion. Once Benji is out of the picture so to speak, the book improves.  The story concerning the restaurant is not half bad. The love story is juvenile and unbelievable. 
So – if you don’t mind the language, the immaturity of all the characters and the constant focus on sex, this book might, repeat, might, be worth spending an otherwise boring afternoon with it.
By the way, even though this book is about food and cooking and restaurants , there are NO recipes or even lucid discussions about actual food.
1 of 5 stars

Monday, April 2, 2018

MUSIC OF THE GHOSTS by Vaddey Ratner

Oh my goodness! What to say about this book. First the good. The writing is lyrical. Some phrases are  exquisite.  The word usage is wonderful.  Then there is the story. I am SOOOOO confused. I tried very hard to like this book, but just couldn’t do it.  The Old Musician and his reminisces wander all over-- future, past, present -- all in present tense.
Somewhere around page 200, the story began to make sense. If you can make that far -- this tale of Cambodia and Khmer Rouge, death, love, life, hate, perseverance, family, faith --  becomes full of life and forces one to engage its loveliness and its heartbreak.
Teera and the Old Musician enter your heart and mind and take up residence.  They stay with you  long after you have read the last page.
Still, only 3 of 5 stars for the slow start, the initial confusion, the ethereal sentences.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


If you like historical fiction, especially India in early 20th century, and learning about different cultures and ways of life, you will like this book. While it is a murder mystery, it is also an exploration of the various cultures active in India from 1915 to 1922. The heroine is a young woman Parisi (Zoroastrian) who has trained to be a solicitor (lawyer) at Oxford and is working in her father’s firm when three widows, Muslims who live in Purda or complete seclusion from men, need a lawyer.  A murder occurs, and Perveen, the untried female lawyer, is the only one who can enter the widows’ seclusion. 
The situation of women of all faiths becomes integral to the plot,  as do marriage customs, inheritance, family practices, the law, the role of the English in India, Indian independence, class strictures and even education and employment for women.  While the plot moves slowly, the descriptions of a way of life unknown to most Americans, keeps the reader interested and reading.  Besides a murder, there are also two kidnappings, financial shenanigans, jewelry theft, families in crisis,  and other plot devices to keep interest high.
The noises, smells and flavors of Bombay and Calcutta set the scene. Clearly drawn characters and lively writing add to a tale well worth spending time with tea, curry and Perveen as she navigates the path forward with three widows who are clearly not sisters of the heart.
4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Great Small Things  by Jodi Piccoult
I haven’t read any Piccoult for a while (a little tired of the “disease of the month” rut she seemed to be in), so I had avoided this book also. But I kept hearing really good things about it. People who didn’t read Piccoult LOVED it. So, I gave it a shot.
All those good things I heard were true. This is a good book!  The tale revolves around an African-American nurse. She is a good nurse with a sterling reputation until she is Labor and Delivery nurse to the wife of a white supremacist. This IS a Piccoult book,  so, of course, something terrible happens to the baby.  Now the tale becomes sympathetic (yes, sympathetic) portrayals of a white, racist, perfectly awful man, his white racist, perfectly awful wife and a here-to-for unbiased, wonderful person African-American nurse and her honor roll student , off to Yale son.
You will learn more medical jargon than you ever wanted to know and, maybe, discover a few of your own biases and prejudices.  This is a good story, well told, that will keep you wondering about yourself until the final pages.
5 of 5 stars

Friday, February 16, 2018


TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER  (Book One in The Numair Chronicles)   by Tamora Pierce

Pierce is one of my favorite authors for young adult fantasy and this outing is one of her best. She has created a world that is fully populated and nuanced with peoples, animals, gods and Gods, as well as climate, flora, and laws of both nature and man. 
Her main character this time is male, unusual for Pierce who is a creator of strong females. Arram is an eleven year old mage student when the book opens, and is joined by Ozorne, a Prince of the Realm, and Varice, a female kitchenwitch, both also mage students.  There are plenty of fully realized supporting characters including teachers, gods and Gods, gladiators and other students.   
This first book in the new series covers the lower and upper years of The Imperial University of Carthak (The School for Mages) and sets up the themes for the following books.  Themes indicated are friendship, use of power, loyalty, the role of government, slavery and gladiators, justice and revenge, and kindness.
One item that shows Pierce’s attention to detail is the use of Arram’s class schedules to introduce each new season.  Each schedule shows us the progress of Arram’s studies, introduces faculty members and details the breadth of Arram’s Gift. Each also reinforces the sense of reality Pierce creates in her Tortall World.
Several interweaving plots carry the reader quickly through the more than 400 pages. A glossary at the end is helpful for newcomers to the Tortall World. You will be sorry this book has ended and be anxious for the next to be published.

5 of 5 stars

Monday, February 12, 2018

TAKE OUT by Margaret Maron

Take Out  by Margaret Maron

I love Maron’s Deborah Knott books. This is only the second Sigrid Harald novel I have read.  I was unfamiliar with the recurring characters, so I was often to turning back to see “who is this”, especially considering there are three separate plots and three sets of characters to keep straight.  Once I got familiar with them, all the plot(s) moved along quickly. 

The New York setting was on point with a number of neighborhood businesses and interest points used.  Lt. Harold’s relationship with artist Oscar Nauman is part of the plotting along with a gallery, a mobster’s family and an aging opera star.  The plots are intriguing and keep you guessing (I did quickly figure out one point, yea, me) with enough ambiguity to keep you reading.

Good reading, but I still like the Deborah Knott books better.

4 of 5 stars

Thursday, February 8, 2018

HOPE IN THE HOLLER by Lisa Lewis Tyre

HOPE IN THE HOLLER by Lisa Lewis Tyre
This delightful middle grade novel features a plucky 5th grader who has just lost her mother to cancer. Wavie is sent to live in a tiny Appalachian hamlet with an aunt she didn’t know existed.  

Wavie acts and speaks like a real 5th grader. So, too, do the other young people in her new town. Her aunt, Samantha Rose, is a horror and her cousin isn’t much better.  An uncle and a weird old man make up the rest of the main characters in this lively novel.

A mystery and secrets lead to the plot which moves along quickly.  Middle graders will love this book that emphasizes honesty, pluck, determination, kindness, friendship and bravery. This would be a good book for a parent/child book club or an all student book group. Even boys would like it as there are several interesting boy characters in the plot.

5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland

NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland
WOW, this book takes you for a ride with the FBI, CIA and Russian spies.  Cleveland has written a page turner that will keep you wondering how Vivian, a CIA analyst, and Matt, her husband and possible Russian sleeper spy, will keep the Russians and the Americans at bay AND keep their family intact (and out of jail)!
The fast moving plot will keep you on the edge of your seat and those pages turning. Vivian is a bit naive and one wonders how she became so trusted with so much top secret information. Her husband starts as a mild mannered house husband and good as gold Dad – and maybe he is… or maybe he is a Russian spy. Someone is.  Discovering who is the spy and who are the good guys has this book littered with red herrings, threats, secret identities, plain black cars and more.

4 of 5 stars

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt

FRENCH EXIT  by Patrick DeWitt
I just couldn’t get interested in this book or the characters in it; Frances, a middle aged widow, and her son, Malcolm.  While clearly drawn, neither was likeable or very interesting.  Their situation (about to become bankrupt) and their reactions were also not interesting.  I finished the book all the while wondering why I kept reading.  I can’t in good conscience recommend this book.
Frances is a snide, snobbish and selfish person. Malcolm is a man/child who has no ambition and no desire to do anything including attend to his long suffering fiancĂ©. The entourage they acquire is made up of misfits and ne’er-do-wells. The conclusion is a relief.

2 of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ  by Antonio Iturbe,  translation by Lilit Thwaites
I wanted to love this book.  It is the true story of a 13 year old girl, imprisoned at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, who protects the few books that have been smuggled into the camp. The infamous Doctor Mengle and other well-known Nazis and Resistance workers play supporting roles in what should have been a fascinating and terrifying look at man’s inhumanity to man.  Instead it is almost boring.
The writing is flat, perhaps a problem with the translation.  The characters have no life to them and so the reader is not engaged. Well researched, with a postscript and “what happened to them” appendix that gives the reader the results of the bravery of the resistance workers and prisoners and the cruelty of the Nazis, the book could be a source for history buffs and casual readers. However, as it intended for young adults, the book simply cannot be recommended because of the uninteresting writing.

2 of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

COME SUNDOWN by Nora Roberts

COME SUNDOWN   by Nora Roberts
The only other Nora Roberts (J D Robb) book I have read is her dystopian YEAR ONE.  This is a stand-alone thriller. 
The Bodine Ranch and Resort are both run by a close knit family. Bodine Longbow, the eldest daughter is the focus of the book and the COO of the family enterprise. She is clearly drawn and multidimensional as is Callen Skinner, a new hire and old acquaintance.  Alice, Bodine’s aunt, who has been missing for years is an integral part of the plot as is Sundown, a highly trained and intelligent horse.
When young women start disappearing and then are found murdered in the close vicinity of the ranch, the plot becomes apparent. There are plenty of red herrings, plot twists, love interests and Ranch/Resort complications to keep the reader interested in this 450 page novel. Roberts is a master of the thriller/love story genre and it shows in this outing.

5 of 5 stars for a convincing thriller with likeable characters, interesting locale and pleasing secondary plots.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AS YOU WISH by Chelsea Sedoti

AS YOU WISH  by Chelsea Sedoti
This teen book asks a lot of heavy questions in a very engaging way. Although the main character is at times a twit, teens will readily identify with him. 
In the desert city of Madison, Nevada, each person upon reaching their 18th birthday , enters the “wishing cave” and makes a wish. Think carefully and pronounce your wish correctly because it will come true just as you speak it.  Some ask for money, some love, some a long time desire, but they all come true.
Eldon’s birthday is quickly approaching. What will he ask for? What would YOU ask for? How will it affect the rest of your life?
Tragedy, morality, selfishness, altruism and more are touched on as Eldon’s Wish Day comes ever closer. Friendship, family, love, despair, happiness, contentment are topics easily discussed after reading this charmingly written book.  Adults will appreciate the questions and wonder about their answers as well.

4 of 5 stars


War is terrifying. When you are 15 and suddenly separated from your family in the middle of a desperate flight with family members slated for imprisonment, civil war becomes a terrifying reality.

Nadia, raised in an upper middle class family with all the modern conveniences Americans enjoy, is left in war torn Aleppo on her own after a bombing raid.  Her family is making their way to safety in Turkey.  ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO makes war real while presenting the political realities of an international crisis.  The book does not sugar coat the situations Nadia encounters in her flight from the city.  The situation is realistic. The characters are complex.  The politics are presented from a Syrian’s point of view. The writing and plotting is intense. The devastation in once beautiful and vibrant Aleppo is made clear.

The novel is aimed at Middle Schoolers but might be too intense for this younger group. High schoolers will identify with Nadia, a “modern” teen. This would be a good book for discussion, especially of politics and the repercussions of decisions made by foreign leaders.

5 of 5 stars

Friday, January 12, 2018

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin

THE IMMORTALISTS  by Chloe Benjamin
THE IMMORTALISTS follows four children throughout their lives. The children visit a woman who tells them their death date. That knowledge compels each of the young people to follow a different pathway through life.  A gay boy who is uncertain of his sexuality and self-worth, a girl who may be suffering from a mental illness and infatuated  by magic, a girl who is intellectually brilliant but socially inept and a boy who is the family’s “golden child” intent on doing everything perfectly make up this group of siblings.
Each one’s story is told in succession with little interaction between the siblings until each one’s death.  Each story is compelling on its own. The characters are well developed.  Each life story has a clear beginning, middle and end. The place and time each sibling’s story covers is detailed and distinct.
An intriguing, well written, and aware novel delineating the difference between belief and science, reality and fantasy.  The choices each sibling makes will resonate long after you finish reading.

5 of 5 stars

Sunday, January 7, 2018

HOST by Robin Cook

HOST  by Robin Cook
Robin Cook usually writes wonderfully interesting medical mysteries. This one – not so much. The story itself was interesting (innocent patients sent into coma and used as drug production bodies); however, the characters were pretty flat and characterless and the ending just – ended. There was no satisfying conclusion or resolution.  Was it terrible – no – it just wasn’t up to his usual excellence.

3 of 5 stars