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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


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


THE PATCHWORK BRIDE  by Sandra 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


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

THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL by Sujata Massey


THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL  by Sujata Massey
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


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 by Tamora Pierce

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

ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO by H N Senzai

ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO   by N H Senzai
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