Saturday, November 16, 2019

SMALL DAYS AND NIGHTS by Tishani Doshi


SMALL DAYS AND NIGHTS  by Tishani Doshi
I so wanted to like this book. And I did –parts of it anyway. Doshi in some places (mostly descriptive parts of the book) is lyrical and enchanting, but in other parts (mostly conversations and character development) she is stilted and unpolished.  Did she need a good editor? I also found the general outline of the book to be confusing as it jumped back and forth in time.
That said the maturing of the relationship between the sisters grows and changes in lovely ways. Both sisters and Teacher developed as the book progressed. Mother, however, seemed static, even as Grace reveals more and more of her personality and their relationship. Lucia was my favorite part of the book and was sympathetically drawn. I found my smiling as she made her wants and needs known.
Overall, I give the book 3 out of 5 stars for the parts of wonderful writing and Lucia. It is not a book I would recommend wholeheartedly.
3 of 5 stars

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Shot through the Hearth by Kate Carlisle


SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH  by Kate Carlisle
When a multimillionaire throws a conference in a small town, attendees start dying.  If you can overlook a “small town” with hotel accommodations for over a thousand people, a well-planned conference with no apparent security, a police force that chooses to stop for a steak dinner instead of investigating the second murder at said conference, and a number of other improbable incidents, this is a pretty good mystery.
Those murdered aren’t very likeable, the main characters are likeable and red herrings abound in this cozy mystery by a well known author. The characters are well developed, the plot is interesting and intricate, and writing is more than adequate.
A fast, easy read for a lazy afternoon.  Carlisle fans will like this outing in the “fixer-upper series.
4 of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

BEFORE AND AFTER, by Judy Christie and Lisa WIngate


BEFORE AND AFTER   by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate

BEFORE AND AFTER gives the real stories of the children that were the impetus and inspiration for the bestselling novel BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Wingate.  The stories of the children – what happened to them then and where they are now – are interspersed with comments by Christie and Wingate, pictures provided by the families of the now grown children and the “reunion” of the children and their families that was organized by Christie and Wingate. 

The stories are heartrending. It is easy to identify which children were the prototype for each of incidents in the novel. It is reassuring to hear positive stories and sad to read of children further victimized by Georgia Tann, Tenneessee and cruel adoption laws.

An essential read if you read BEFORE WE WERE YOURS.

5 of 5 stars

THE GUARDIANS by John Grisham


THE GUARDIANS   by John Grisham
Quincy has been rotting in prison for years convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.  Cullen Post, a minister and a lawyer, along with the rest of the Guardians agree to help him. Who are the bad guys? They are really bad, well protected. and have no compunction against killing a minister, a lawyer, a prisoner, or anyone else who gets in their way.
Grisham, a master of the crime field, has another winner in THE GUARDIANS.  The clever plot is convoluted enough to keep you guessing, but not enough to discourage you as you race to discover the bad guys. 
As usual with a Grisham novel, few “bad words”, few sex scenes, the violence takes place off page, but the twists and turns, riveting plot, fully developed characters and excellent writing are all there.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler


THE HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS   by Julie Kibler
I had a hard time reviewing this book. There are two concurrent stories in the book. One concerns the Berachah Home in Arlington Texas (1903 -1935) that was supported by the Nazarene Church and was unusual in that unmarried, but pregnant, girls were not just encouraged to keep their child, but were given a home for themselves and their child for life if necessary and training for a job if they wished to leave with their child. The second story concerned a librarian in Arlington in 2017 and the college student she has befriended.
The Berachah story is excellent. The librarian story is strained, unnecessary, has little to do with the Berachah Home and makes the book entirely too long. I kept waiting for the author to reveal a connection between the two stories – it didn’t happen.
So… read the story about the Berachah Home and skip all the parts about the librarian. You will have a really good read about an actual Home that did good work for the duration of its existence. The research is impeccable and the girl’s stories are interesting and well written. Lizzie and Mattie’s stories are based on real people and are heart rending.
5 of 5 stars for the Berachah story
2 of 5 stars for the Librarian story

Monday, October 14, 2019

GLOW by Megan Bryant


GLOW  by Megan E Bryant
GLOW tells the heartbreaking story of the young women who went to work for the companies that used radium to make glow in dark objects, mostly watch faces for the soldiers of WWI.
My grandmother worked briefly for The Radium Dial company in Ottawa Illinois. Fortunately she remained healthy although she went every year of life (she died at 96) to The Argonne National Laboratory for extensive testing.  GLOW is unflinching in relating the horrific illnesses that plagued the radium workers. Although GLOW is aimed at young adult audience, adult readers will also react favorably to this tale.
Bryant uses the true stories of actual workers to underscore her fictionalized work. Sisters Lisa and Lydia help support their family by the “easy work and good pay” offered by the companies.  This mostly untold story is also related in THE RADIUM GIRLS by Kate Moore.
Very sensitive readers may be upset by the descriptions (accurate) of the results of “tipping” to paint tiny numerals on watch faces with the radium based paints.
5 of 5 stars

THE PRAYER BOX by Lisa Wingate


THE PRAYER BOX   by Lisa Wingate
When the book begins you will want to shake Tandi and tell her to grow up.  As the book progresses, she does exactly that, although in fits and starts.  Concurrently with Tandi’s story is Iola’s story of growing up unwanted and shunted aside because of the circumstances of her birth. Sympathetically written, the story details what it is like to escape from one bad situation into another… and another until you feel you have no options left.  But people are ultimately good in this tale and Iola’s house becomes a beacon of light.
Tandi is well developed as are Paul and Iola. Iola’s story is one of redemption and survival under trying circumstances.
If you like uplifting, positive stories, this one is for you.  There is no sex, no cursing and no violence. 
4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING James Patterson & Bill Clinton


THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING  by James Patterson and Bill Clinton
Patterson would have done well to use former President Bill Clinton only as a resource and kept him away from the actual writing. This book is about 100 pages too long.
Terrorists are planning an attack on the United States and the president is a prime target.  The plot is interesting and well plotted.  The writing can be very verbose with little addition to the storyline. That said, I enjoyed the book and I skimmed parts of it with no impact on my enjoyment or the story.
3 of 5 stars

The Third Daughter by Talia Carner


THE THIRD DAUGHTER by Talia Carner
Batya, the third daughter in a family of Jews forced out of their home in one of Russia’s endless pogroms, is married off to an apparently wealthy and kind American businessman.  Unfortunately, his “America” is Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Batya is forced into a life as a prostitute. Many young, innocent European girls fleeing hard times found themselves suffering Batya’s plight in lawless Argentina of the early 1900’s.
Carner’s well researched and well written book follows Batya as she is betrayed and then sold into a form of slavery.  Carner tells the stories and lives of Batya and the other residents of the brothel with great feeling, empathy and realism. 
When Batya is offered the possibility of helping to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, it is at great personal peril.
Carner tells the tale of a little know part of Jewish and Argentine history. Her research is impeccable and her storytelling is impactful.  This will be a good book for groups to discuss.
5 of 5 stars

Book of a Feather by Kate Carlisle


BOOKS OF A FEATHER   by Kate Carlisle
This series (Bibliophile Mysteries) concerns a book binder/conservator who becomes involved with a murder very early on in each book.  John James Audubon’s bird paintings figure prominently in this outing.  You will learn a wee bit about painting and book conservation while solving an interesting mystery.
Brooklyn, the main character, has a long-term romance that seems to get regularly stalled while she is sleuthing.  The mysteries are well plotted and well written with an occasional humorous incident.  The characters are well rounded and Carlisle knows and relates interesting information about book binding, collecting and reading along the way.
Series readers will like following Carlisle’s mysteries and characters.  These easy to follow mysteries won’t tax your brain but will provide hours of fun.
4 of 5 stars

IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE by Diana Peterfreund


IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE  by Diana Peterfreund
This middle grade to young adult mystery based on the board game CLUE is a quick read.  The usual suspects are presented early and with enough characterization to identify them. Beyonf that there is little development of the stock characters.  The plot is interesting and there are enough red herrings to keep interest in the story.
Both boys and girls will identify with the characters and the setting (an isolated boarding school).  There is little violence beyond an upper cut to the chin (described) and the off scene knife stabbing. There are no curse words and no sex.  There is a satisfying resolution to the mystery.
3 of 5 stars

Friday, October 4, 2019

SINS OF THE FATHERS by j A Jance


SINS OF THE FATHERS   by J A Jance
This is the most outing for Jance and the J P Beaumont series.  In this iteration Beau is asked to find a missing girl who left her baby in the hospital and disappeared shortly after the birth.  After a somewhat slow start the story picks up when Beau discovers he has a personal reason for searching for Naomi.
Readers of other Jance mysteries will love this one that offers more of Beau’s back story. It can be read as a stand alone. 
4 of 5 stars

CARNEGIE"S MAID by Marie Benedict


CARNEGIE”S MAID  by Marie Benedict
Andrew Carnegie made an about face at some point in his life from a wealth and power obsessed businessman to one of the world’s biggest philanthropists. This book attempts to answer why and how that happened.  Although this is a light romance book, it also sheds light on one of the most important businessmen in this country’s early industrial age. 
The glittering world of the VERY wealthy Carnegie’s is contrasted with the plight of the downtrodden working man slaving at hard labor for minimal wages as well as the equally hard working and often ignored servants who made the Cargenie’s life style possible.
This is a quick read that offers food for thought in how people with power exert that power. Book groups can have a discussion that centers on the romance of upstairs/downstairs as well as on the power of wealth and social standing.
4 of 5 stars

THE BIG FINISH by Brooke Fossey


THE BIG FINISH  by Brooke Fossey

Duffey, the unrepentant reprobate, and his side kick, Carl, are roommates at the “nice” assisted living home.  They live in fear of being tossed out and forced to move to the “hellhole” of the only full nursing home in the area.  Nora is the nurse who makes life bearable. Anderson is the aide who aids and abets Duffey and Carl and all the other inmates at the 20 bed Centennial Assisted Living Home.

The activities mentioned all ring true as do the shenanigans the inmates get up to. Told in spare and occasionally uncomfortable prose, the tale is filled with gentle humor and lots of empathetic sympathy.  The senior citizens are never disparaged except by the home’s kill joy and money mad proprietor. When 19 year old Josie enters their life needing a place to stay and help with her life choices, the fun begins and doesn’t end until the Big Finish.

Lots to think about and discuss in book groups, especially ones that have a few older members or members with loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes.   The importance of hope, honesty, friendship, and sympathetic attention is laid forth with good natured respect.

4 of 5 stars

Monday, September 30, 2019

THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton


THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON  by Meg Waite Clayton
Truus, a Dutch woman, works to save children from sure death in Nazi Germany in the run up to WWII.  This story is based on the real Truus Wijsmuller and the Kindertransport. Well written and researched it will live with you long after you finish reading.  While the subject is terrifying, the book itself is full of hope, love, bravery, altruism and redemption.
The fiction part of the book details life in Nazi Germany for two young people, one Christian and one Jewish.  Fifteen year old Stephan works hard on writing plays, stories and poems. He idolizes the author Stefan Zweig, whom his very wealthy Jewish family has actually met. Zophie-Helene’s mother is a well-known newspaper journalist who fearlessly writes columns disparaging Hitler.  
When these two stories collide, the tension rises palpably.  Both families struggle to get their children out of Germany and to relative safety in England as the Nazi web comes ever closer to the families. Meanwhile Truus takes ever more daring risks to save the children of Germany.
Book groups will find much to discuss. This would be a good book for a parent child book group, a group interested in WWII and one devoted to learning more of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
5 of 5 stars 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

TH1RT3EN by Steve Cavanagh


TH1RT3EN  by Steve Cavanagh
This one will keep you up far into the night.  The plot is diabolical. So is the killer. 
Eddie Flynn is the one person who believes the actor accused of killing his wife and her body guard is innocent.   The bodies are falling fast and thick.  The plot twists are delicious.
For a mystery with lots of deaths this one is free of sex, unwarranted violence and curse words. Just a really good story.
5 of  5 stars

Friday, August 30, 2019

THE HUNDRED YEAR HOUSE by Rebecca Makkai


THE HUNDRED YEAR HOUSE by Rebecca Makkai
I made it through 150 pages before deciding I didn’t really care about these people and their foibles and meandering progress through what passed for life. A failed writer, a failed artist, a failed mother, a failed son – who cares. 
The writing is lovely, the story failed.
3 of 3 stars

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Better Man by Louise Penny


A BETTER MAN  by Louise Penny
I have only one other Armand Gamache mystery. This one convinces me I should read more!
Armand is back at work, demoted and brushed aside for another – his son-in-law!  A flood is happening and Three Pines is in the crosshairs. A woman is missing and her husband, who may be a murderer, is unconcerned. A new agent is pushing for Gamache to take over the case. The missing woman’s father is threatening to murder the husband. And then there is the dog.
Oh my – all these plot points and we are only in the first few pages.  The tension doesn’t stop until the last page in this engrossing mystery.  Penny keeps the tension alive with just enough red herrings and plot twists to compel reading far into the night.
A well written, engrossing mystery with a familiar character in a new and uncomfortable situation.
5 of 5 stars

ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER by Hazel Prior


ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER  by Hazel Prior
This is a lovely book.  Ellie, married to a controlling husband, meets Dan, who lives in solitary splendor meticulously carving exquisite harps.
The writing is detailed and engaging.  Prior uses words to describe the woods and creatures surrounding the harp barn with great charm.  Her characters grow and become clear as the story progresses.  Although she never uses any words to indicate Dan is autistic (or at least on the spectrum), it is readily apparent through her word pictures. She writes with sympathy and tenderness about her characters allowing the reader to see them change and develop with her eyes. 
As the tale unfolds danger and fear emerge, but the overriding feeling is always sympathy and gentleness.
A good book for groups interested in music, woodworking, nature, personality development, marriage, autism, forgiveness, family dynamics, and love.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, August 10, 2019

THE GRAVE ROBBER"'S SECRET by Anna Myers


THE GRAVE ROBBER’S SECRET by Anna Myers
I have read and enjoyed other books by Anna Myers. This one left me slightly off kilter. It wasn’t bad or poorly written, I was just uncertain to the point of the book.  The ending didn’t seem to have a conclusion and for a middle grader book, there was no clear right and wrong.
Robby’s Pa takes him with him to rob a grave. They sell the body to a hospital for teaching purposes, but Robby is very disconcerted by stealing the body and defiling it. He thinks about the family whose loved one is now being dissected. 
Right, wrong, the value of education, concern for others, empathy, all come into play as the book proceeds. Because the book caused such ambivalent feelings, I am hesitant to recommend it. Parents may want to read and discuss the book with their preteens.
3 of 5 stars with reservations

DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy


DUMPLIN’  by Judy Murphy
This book is not PC.  A teenage girl is called Dumplin’ by her mother who constantly reminds her how fat she is and how pretty she would be if she just lost some weight. 
Dumplin’ and her friends decide to enter the beauty contest Dumplin’s mother runs and had won many years before. Hilarity runs rampant as the young women (one fat, one disabled, one perhaps autistic and one gay) prepare their talent acts and wardrobes. 
This could have been awful. It was not. It becomes a sensitive and empathetic tale of young women learning to love themselves and accept others.  Oh, and there is also a gentle love story. This would be great book for a mother/parent book club.
4 of 5 stars

A BEND IN THE STARS by Rachel Barenbaum


A BEND IN THE STARS  by Rachel Barenbaum
Relativity and Russia star in this detailed novel of science and politics.  Siblings Vanya (male, older, trying to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity) and Miri (female, a surgeon in a man’s field, following her deserter fiancée) flee across Russia trying to stay alive long enough to prove Vanya’s theory by photographing a solar eclipse as World War I begins.
You do NOT need to understand the Theory of Relativity to enjoy this epic novel while meandering through Russia. A triangular love story ensues when Miri saves a Jewish mystery man who then falls in love with her.  The story is really the love story and the chase for a photo of the eclipsed sun all while being chased by a murderous villain.
The details are all there. The science is understandable, the characters are likeable (or detestable), the country is unmanageable, the climax is heart pounding. An enjoyable, if lengthy, read.
4 of 5 stars

AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS by Leah Franqui


AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS   by Leah Franqui
This was a delightful book.  A conservative Indian lady seeks closure with her son’s death by taking a guided tour of America. 
Pival hires an Indian (she thinks) tour company that is really Bengali.  Her “companion” is an erstwhile actress who is tired of life. Her tour guide has never led a tour before.  These three mismatched characters, each with their own set of opinions and expectations find themselves and America as they travel. Pival’s son, his chosen lifestyle, his companion, and  his life’s work become clear as the tour progresses. 
By turns hilarious and heartrending, America for Beginners presents an America like no other. The characters are interesting and well developed. The story line has great depth and insight. While reading, you might consider a tour of America you might arrange – especially the meals along the way.
5 of 5 stars

AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS by Leah Franqui


AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS   by Leah Franqui
This was a delightful book.  A conservative Indian lady seeks closure with her son’s death by taking a guided tour of America. 
Pival hires an Indian (she thinks) tour company that is really Bengali.  Her “companion” is an erstwhile actress who is tired of life. Her tour guide has never led a tour before.  These three mismatched characters, each with their own set of opinions and expectations find themselves and America as they travel. Pival’s son, his chosen lifestyle, his companion, and  his life’s work become clear as the tour progresses. 
By turns hilarious and heartrending, America for Beginners presents an America like no other. The characters are interesting and well developed. The story line has great depth and insight. While reading, you might consider a tour of America you might arrange – especially the meals along the way.
5 of 5 stars

YOU WERE THERE TOO by Colleen Oakley


YOU WERE THERE TOO  by Colleen Oakley
This was a different kind of love story.  A happily married woman dreams about a man, not her husband, for years. Then she discovers he is a real person who has been dreaming about her!  Love, desire, confusion, humor, guilt, forgiveness, and just plain weirdness ensues.

I liked it. Not the best book ever, but definitely an interesting take on human emotions.  Well written, likeable characters who show real emotions, who grow and change in the development of the story. 

You will wonder while reading where this is all going and you will be surprised. Taken all together, this is a good read. I’m glad I read it.
4 of 5 stars

Friday, June 28, 2019

CHEROKEE AMERICA by Margaret Verble


CHEROKEE AMERICA by Margaret Verble
Verble beautifully creates atmosphere in both culture and land in this prequel to her first (Pulitzer Prize nominated) novel, MAUD’S LINE. Cherokee America, known to all as Check, is the matriarch of a family still remembering the horrors of the Trail of Tears and now facing increasing pressure from Whites to sell, give or abandon their Cherokee Nation land.
Family is paramount to this extended family facing the death of Check’s husband, culture clashes with their white neighbors, disapproval of their employment of a former slave, their friendships across culture lines and family ties and, finally, the betrayal of family members by whites.
The first half of the novel introduces the various family, friends and enemies and establishes the ethnic and “national” background and clash points.  The second half deals with the aftermath of betrayal and reads like an engrossing mystery. The cast of characters at the front is extremely helpful in keeping all of the players in this drama straight. The conflict and resolution are satisfying if unconventional.
My one hesitancy in highly recommending this novel is the emphasis on sexual behavior that pervades the entire book.  
5 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 13, 2019

INDIA GRAY by Sujata Massey


INDIA GRAY  by Sujata Massey
This collection consists of two novellas and two short stories. Both novellas, Outnumbered at Oxford and The Ayah’s Tale are peopled by well formed characters and have detailed and nuanced plots with introduction, plot development and conclusion.  Outnumbered at Oxford introduces characters found in the full length novel, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL. The two short stories are quite brief and include only one incident with little characterization. India Gray is the much more satisfying story for both character and plot. Bitter Tea simply leaves one wanting more.
Outnumbered at Oxford gives the reader of MALABAR HILL the back story of what transpired during Perveen’s banishment to England and introduces Alice, Perveen’s good friend, who has a role in MALABAR HILL.  Both women find themselves bending the strict rules at St. Hilda’s College to solve the disappearance of a mathematical paper and a young man.
The Ayah’s Tale is a treatise on social class, including the vast social differences between Indians (in their own country) and English colonists during a time of growing desire for Indian independence. It leaves the reader wanting another tale to fill in the gap between the story and the epilogue.
The writing and research involved for all four tales is detailed and gives depth and interest to each story.  A good introduction to an excellent writer.
5 of 5 stars   

Monday, June 3, 2019

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center


THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE  by Katherine Center

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE is the first book I have read by Katherine Center.  It wasn’t exactly what I assumed it would be, but was an interesting read even though it turned out to be a romance rather than a firefighter story.  The tension author Center creates around Cassie’s determined “aloneness” is palpable from the very first lines.  Cassie, Diana, the other firefighters and Diana’s friend Josie all speak and act like normal people.  The two “villains” are known pretty quickly.
 
The romantic story line is actually quite interesting (this said by a person who doesn’t usually read romance novels). The pranking escalates rather quickly into real fright producing torment. That resolution is the weakest part of the novel. Cassie turns around socially because of fear for her mother and over a period of time – understandable. The resolution of the out of control pranking is not so understandable, especially on the part of the villain who changes too quickly and too completely to be believable.

(No vulgar language except for a few damns, one sex scene, one alluded to violent sex scene, I received this book free from St Martin’s Press for my honest review)

4 of 5 stars
#ThingsYouSavebook

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I STILL DREAM ABOUT YOU by Fannie Flagg


I STILL DREAM ABOUT YOU  by Fannie Flagg
This fun read still has an emotional punch.  Flagg is an expert at creating characters one cares about – even the ones that are not very nice!  In this outing Flagg joins a “fat” African American, a midget, an ex-beauty queen, and a thoroughly detestable real estate agent to tell a tale of what might have been, what is and what may yet be.
Pathos and hilarity join forces for a romp in Southern charm and dirty deals.  Flagg manages to tell a good story without stooping to vulgar language or explicit sex.  Written for the adult female audience I STILL DREAM can be enjoyed by all audiences including teens. There is enough here for an interesting book group discussion that might cover family dynamics, faith, integrity, racial harmony, interpersonal relations and much more.
Similar in feel to FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, this book would also make a good movie.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, May 25, 2019

DEATH OF A NEW AMERICAN by Mariah Fredericks


DEATH OF A NEW AMERICAN  by Mariah Fredericks
Jane Prescott, lady’s maid and mystery solver, becomes embroiled in labor disputes, the Black Hand and murder in this entertaining novel set in 1912 New York. 
Louise, Jane’s lady, is about to marry the son of a prestigious family.  When the Tyler’s nursemaid is murdered and notes are found threatening the infant child of Louise’s soon to be in laws, Jane and newspaperman Michael Behan spring into action. 
Between love and the criminal underworld, the tension is palpable.  Well written, with interesting situation and characters, this novel will be a welcome addition to book groups and individual readers alike.
4 of 5 stars

THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE by Sujata Massey


THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE  by Sujata Massey
This the second mystery starring Purveen Mistry, a female Indian lawyer practicing in Bombay in 1921.  (If you have not read the first, you might want to check it out first, so you know the backstory.)  Purveen has been asked to determine if the children of a deceased Maharajah in princely India are being properly cared for and educated, and the royal succession maintained while the two remaining maharanis remain in purdah (seclusion).
Several mysterious incidents come to light as Purveen and an agent for the British Empire join forces to untangle the intricacies of Satapur’s royal aristocracy. Several deaths and more than several possible culprits appear along the way. Massey’s care with the cultural differences observed by the various religions, political entities, and Indian versus British desires become part of the mystery. A bit of romance may even be hinted at if this entertaining series continues – and I hope it does.
Well written with strong characters and intricate plotting make this novel a great addition to the genre. 
4 of 5 stars

TURBULENCE by David Szalay


TURBULENCE  by David Szalay
This very short book is a collection of very loosely connected vignettes.  Each tells of an incident in the life of the “main” character, a person who has interacted in some way with the main character of the preceding story. Although each vignette poses a problem or life changing incident,, there are no conclusions and there is no background information. 
While each story is compelling in the moment, each is also dissatisfying in the lack of resolution.  The writing is clear, the characters are distinct, the stories disparate. 
Ultimately, the novel is unsatisfying. It would serve a literature class well, but as a read for enjoyment – choose something else.
3 of 5 stars

Monday, May 20, 2019

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK


THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim M Richardson
In the depths of the depression and hidden in the deep mountains of Kentucky was Troublesome Creek. The people were starving for both and learning. The WPA hired women to ride packhorses or mules and take “learning” in the form of books to the cabins hidden in the hills and hollows. Also hidden in those hollows were the “Blue’ people. Blues suffered from a genetic abnormality that caused their skin to range from pale blue to deep indigo. They were feared and ostracized even more than “normal” black skinned people.  Cussy is both Blue and a Book Woman. 
This is her story.
Based on the real blue Fugate family of Kentucky, this novel ranges from terrifying to humorous to touching. The writing paints the forests and hills in all their awe inspiring glory and all their fearful terrain.  The closed away feeling of the miners and dirt farmers is clarified by the prose. The plot is engrossing.  The people are sympathetic and haunting.
Readers will learn more than they anticipated and enjoy it. An excellent book for book groups. Appropriate for parent/middle ager (and up) groups
5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage



BEIRUT HELLFIRE SOCIETY  by Rawi Hage
This tale presents the raw outrage, fear, misery, and indelible sadness of a country at war. The writing is excellent. Unfortunately, it is so filled with sex and depravity that I can not recommend this book.  After having to force myself to read past the first few chapters, the book did offer some moments of humor (of the black variety) and the final pages did offer some version of hope after the devastation of hopelessness that war engenders.  The feelings of the outcast (religion, societal, employment, mental illness, etc) are clearly shown.  I had hoped for a better read.
2 of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

BLOOD OATH by Linda Fairstein


BLOOD OATH  by Linda Fairstein
This thriller by a master of the art starts a bit slow but by the time you get all the players straight the thrills a minute lead to a heart pounding conclusion.
Alexandra Cooper, back from a leave of absence, is the heroine of the tale. Lucy, a troubled young woman is the object of concern.  Along the way a wide cast of characters, some good, some evil, come into play.
Tightly plotted and unerringly fleshed out, Fairstein’s novel is one of the best of the genre.
4 of 5 stars

BLOOD OATH by Linda Fairstein


BLOOD OATH  by Linda Fairstein
This thriller by a master of the art starts a bit slow but by the time you get all the players straight the thrills a minute lead to a heart pounding conclusion.
Alexandra Cooper, back from a leave of absence, is the heroine of the tale. Lucy, a troubled young woman is the object of concern.  Along the way a wide cast of characters, some good, some evil, come into play.
Tightly plotted and unerringly fleshed out, Fairstein’s novel is one of the best of the genre.
4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

RUN AWAY by Halan Coben


RUN AWAY  by Harlan Coben
This was my first Harlan Coben mystery.  It was an interesting, well written tale about a dysfunctional family (Is there any other kind?). 
Paige is the runaway. She fell in with a druggie boyfriend at college and is no longer the sweet innocent good girl her father is searching for. Elena is a former FBI agent on the trail of the missing 24 year old son of wealthy banker. Simon is Paige’s father trying to save her from herself.
Lots of action here: death, beatings, drug dealers, gun fights, DNA surprises, you name it.  A fast read by good writer.
4 of 5 stars

A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE by Mariah Fredericks


DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE   by Mariah Fredericks
The backstairs folk always see more than the upper class folks think. Lady’s maid Jane sees and thinks.  
The writing is good with great characterization, good atmosphere, a realistic portrayal of time and place.  Fredericks throws in some real people and real incidents to give breadth to her story.
This is the first of a series with Jane as the sleuth in a tightly crafted mystery. 
The death is pretty gruesome but, for the squeamish, not dwelled upon.  Also, no foul language or steamy sex, just a really good mystery with fully fleshed out characters.
5 of 5 stars

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE by Mariah Fredericks


DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE   by Mariah Fredericks

The backstairs folk always see more than the upper class folks think. Lady’s maid Jane sees and thinks.  The writing is good with great characterization, good atmosphere, a realistic portrayal of time and place. 
Fredericks throws in some real people and real incidents to give breadth to her story.

This is the first of a series with Jane as the sleuth in a tightly crafted mystery. The death is pretty gruesome but, for the squeamish, not dwelled upon.  Also, no foul language or steamy sex, just a really good mystery with fully fleshed out characters.
5 of 5 stars

Thursday, April 25, 2019

RUN AWAY by Harlan Coben


RUN AWAY  by Harlan Coben
This was my first Harlan Coben mystery.  It was an interesting, well written tale about a dysfunctional family (Is there any other kind?). 
Paige is the runaway. She fell in with a druggie boyfriend at college and is no longer the sweet innocent good girl her father is searching for. Elena is a former FBI agent on the trail of the missing 24 year old son of wealthy banker. Simon is Paige’s father trying to save her from herself.
Lots of action here: death, beatings, drug dealers, gun fights, DNA surprises, you name it.  A fast read by good writer.
4 of 5 stars


THE FARM by Joanne Ramos


THE FARM  by Joanne Ramos
An idea – pay poor women large sums to be the surrogate for busy, important, wealthy, lazy women who want their own child, but don’t want the bother, time commitment, inconvenience of actually bearing them. 
Ramos has written a novel that presents that idea carried out to the fullest extent. The Farm is a lap of luxury prison for the surrogates.  Reagan, an idealist asserting her independence from her father but controlling father, Jane, an impoverished Filipina eager for the large financial payout, and Lisa, a wild child with unknown needs, are the three surrogates.
The novel presents many topics for book groups to discuss and casual readers to ponder.   Among them – attitudes toward money; styles of parenting; the poor; immigrants (legal or not); power vs weakness, education; exploitation by class, money, education, status, or race; crime and punishment; family; and of course, women.
A question that is not addressed in the novel but should be: What did Reagan do with her bonus and why?  Although there is an epilogue, several questions remain of the final outcome for each of the women presented in the novel.
4 of 5 stars
I received an ARC for my freely given opinion.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

THE GILLESPIE COUNTY FAIR by Mark Hess


THE GILLESPIE COUNTY FAIR  by Mark Hess
This book never quite caught me in its web.  I didn’t like the characters. They all seemed shallow and grubby.  The plot wandered about until the “secret sin” was revealed and then the secret didn’t seem to matter much at all.
Carel, the main character, just wandered about the story making or revealing mistake after mistake, not learning anything from his errors. His wife (current) and daughter do manage to have redeeming qualities of a sort. The writing is okay, but there are too many German words that are not defined or explained. I read German, so I knew what was written, someone unfamiliar with the language would be frustrated .
I can’t really recommend this book. Maybe someone else will read it and love it, I don’t.
2 of 5 stars

Saturday, April 6, 2019

MAUD'S LINE by Margaret Verble


MAUD’S LINE  by Margaret Verble
Maud, her father and brother live on Maud’s mother’s allotment in the former Indian Territory. Her family is (mostly) Cherokee. Maud has a desire for better things. Electricity, a refrigerator, an inside toilet. It is 1928.
This tale of Cherokee families living in Oklahoma after enduring and surviving the Trail of Tears is filled with fully realized characters, Indian traits, hard scrabble lives on dirt farms, snakes galore, family and mean neighbors. Richly told, Verble has created a world complete. Maud is a captivating heroine.  Her family is filled with abundant well-developed characters.  The plot, while simple, is richly detailed. 
An absorbing and thought-provoking novel, especially for a first novel. Very satisfying.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, March 30, 2019

DESOLATION MOUNTAIN by William Kent Krueger


DESOLATION MOUNTAIN  by William Kent Krueger
I have not read any of Krueger’s Cork O’Conner mysteries, but I am a huge fan or Ordinary Grace.  DESOLATION MOUNTAIN did not disappoint. 
The characters were refined and true to character as the book progressed.  The area of Minnesota was so clearly utilized it was almost a character.
The plight of the Ojibway Indians and their reservation was clear even though really not a pivotal part of the plot. The mystery leaked out slowly, just enough to keep my interest and the menacing terror growing. 
Although there were many deaths, this was not a gruesome book.  There is minimal foul language.  The plot and all its permutations were neatly concluded in a satisfying way.
A very good mystery by a very good writer.
5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson


NEVER HAVE I EVER  by Joshilyn Jackson
If you are looking for a fast read that starts slowly, but builds to a thrilling conclusion, Then this is the book for you.  The characters are pretty stock and the conversations stilted.  The situations have way too many coincidences and barely believable occurrences, but for an escapist afternoon or two this one fills the bill.
Amy was a wild child with a past who worked on rehabilitating herself. Then a newcomer crashes her book group, takes over and threatens (nicely) everyone present.  The newcomer seems to have the goods on Amy and then the fun begins.  If you think there are too many cliques in this post, don’t read NEVER HAVE I EVER.
3 of 5 stars

Monday, March 18, 2019

THE BLUE by Nancy Bilyeau


THE BLUE, A Novel   by Nancy Bilyeau

Using actual people and events as the basis, Bilyeau has written an engrossing tale of spying, treachery, art, porcelain making, kings and kingdoms.  Blue is a difficult color to create for artists and porcelain makers. It was on of the last colors to be made for artists (late 28th century) and was greatly prized.

Genevieve, an English Huguenot who desired to be an historical artist, is the well-developed main character. She is surrounded by chemists seeking the color blue, spies seeking the color blue, kings and pottery makers seeking the color blue and those willing to kill to help or hinder them. The intricate plot is thick with chicanery and populated with such personages as Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV, and the founders of Sèvres  and Derby porcelain.  Of course romance blooms as well.

Book groups who are interested in history, art, or romance will find this tale engrossing and will lead to good discussions.

5 of 5 stars

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Singapore Sapphire by A M Staurt


SINGAPORE SAPPHIRE  by A M Stuart
In the mood for a multiple murder/gem smuggling mystery with a bit of romance and family drama and a fair amount of diverse culture?  Then this is your book.
Harriet, newly arrived in Singapore in 1910, is the richly nuanced main character. Most characters are well developed, although a couple surprises near the end seem a bit “out of the blue.” The culture of colonial Singapore is clearly drawn. The main characters are mainly upper class British, with the requisite native servants and lower level functionaries.
I read an e-book before publication and there was no glossary – one is sorely needed. The plot is fast moving and well developed. The writing is clear and expressive. The character listing helps keep the many persons straight. There are several murders, but not too much gruesomeness.  The sex is merely alluded to. There is no foul language.
4 of 5 stars

Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert


DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I   by Alan Brennert
The long awaited sequel to MOLOKA’I is here!  Rachel’s daughter Ruth, taken from her the day Ruth was born, is the main character in this family tale that extends from Hawaii to California to Japanese internment camps and back to California.
Brennert excels in incorporating actual people and events into his stories.  DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA’I is no exception.  The discrimination against Japanese (Rachel is adopted by a Japanese couple) in the early part of the twentieth century, the difficult life of “foreign” farmers in the lush farmland of California and the internment of hapless Japanese during WWII make up the bulk of this novel.  The final portion relates the difficulty of adoptees and their birth parents in locating each other and the repercussions that follow.  Brennert’s empathy finds expression is his clearly drawn characters, skillful conversations and deft handling of conflict.
Book groups will love this historically accurate account of difficult episodes., especially those who have read and loved MOLOKA’I.  Groups interested in immigration/emigration issues will find much to discuss.
5 of 5 stars

Monday, February 25, 2019

THE LAST COLLECTION by Jeanne Macklin


THE LAST COLLECTION by Jeanne Mackin
I was fascinated by the personalities of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli and the intricacies of Haute Couture and politics in Paris just before and during WWII. But I was also intrigued by the daily life of various classes of people (upper class, middle class, merchants, professionals, wage workers, spies, artists, military, etc.) during that same period. Even the Ritz Hotel and the various cafes became a part of the story.
I was so curious about the gowns being designed, constructed and worn that I looked them up on Google. Yes, they are all there!  I hope the finished book has photographs of Lily’s first Schiaparelli dress and the “tree” costume. 
At first I thought this would be just another mildly interesting romance with clothes. I was delightedly mistaken. THE LAST COLLECTION is well worth your reading time and would be a good choice for book groups.
5 of 5 stars 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

THE GOWN by Jennifer Robson


THE GOWN  by Jennifer Robson
The intimate details of every day life in 1947 England, still suffering from the austerity required by the devastation of WWII, are clearly rendered in the lives of two embroiderers working on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. One woman will become world famous, the other will be lost in obscurity when she emigrates to Canada.
Richly detailed scenes in ordinary home life (rationed, food, clothing, housing), education, and the workplace make this tale of historical fiction come to life.  The reader comes to care about Ann and Miriam as they toil day after day on the peculiarities of embroidered flowers and motifs at Hartnell, a haute couture house of fashion.
Robson has done the research. She ably and seamlessly weaves real events and real people into her story.  Book groups and history buffs will both find much to love and discuss in this tale.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 16, 2019

OF BLOOD AND BONE by Nora Roberts


OF BLOOD AND BONE   by Nora Roberts
Volume two of The Chronicles of THE ONE is a richly imagined world of magic, war, peace, education, and strategy.  The characters introduced in volume one (YEAR ONE) are fleshed out and new characters become real.  Roberts is a master of characterization and plotting. This book demonstrates that.
The training of THE ONE continues with an increase in magic, friendships and war.  Although the middle of the book drags a bit, it is a welcome launch to the heart pounding final chapters. The conclusion of this book ensures readers will wait breathlessly for the third and final installment.
Readers who enjoy their magic laced with realism and great characters will appreciate this book. Can be read as a stand alone.
5 of 5 stars

THE FLAPPER, THE IMPOSTER, AND THE STALKER by Charlene Bell Dietz


THE FLAPPER, THE IMPOSTOR, AND THE STALKER  by Charlene Bell Dietz
This was an interesting read, but I am still wondering how to classify it and if I liked it. It is a murder mystery, but also a coming of age and an historical novel. I didn’t much like Kathleen, the main character. The ending was too abbreviated, or not necessary, I can’t decide which.  From reading the notes, apparently this book is a prequel to THE FLAPPER, THE SCIENTIST AND THE SABATEUR.
The 1920’s dialogue, clothing, music and situations all ring true. The Chicago elements are accurate (I am a Chicagoan). Stephens College is a real school in Missouri that debutants and wealthy females attended (and still do). The plot is well thought out and executed.  Kathleen’s adventures are (mostly) believable.
I’m still not willing to give a rave review, but it did hold my interest, had a few humorous parts and a few truly scary parts.  Kathleen was a bit of a twit, but then she was 17 at the start of the book. I’ll be interested to read someone else’s thoughts.
3 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 9, 2019

SOMEDAY WE WILL FLY by Rachel DeWoskin


SOMEDAY WE WILL FLY  by Rachel DeWoskin

Performers in the Warsaw Circus must flee for their lives from the Nazis. As they flee to Shanghai, Lillia’s mother is lost. She and father left with no Choice, continue to Shanghai where Jews are being offered safety, but not an easy life. As the Japanese draw ever nearer, life becomes more tenuous and scary. 
Well written and researched, this YA novel is also a wonderful read for adults.  The Jewish experience in war time China has been little known. This book attempts to rectify that omission and succeeds.  Lillia, her father and those she comes in contact with are fully developed characters. The plot is engrossing. 
5 of 5 stars

Monday, February 4, 2019

THE RECKONING by John Grisham


THE RECKONING   by John Grisham
Grisham is back to writing mysteries instead of “magical realism” and I am happy. When the town’s celebrated hero walks into church and kills his best friend, there has to be a story……and there is.  Why did Pete kill Dexter? Why won’t he talk? How can he be defended?
The court room drama takes us from the Jim Crow south to the jungles of WWII to an insane asylum and back to the court room.  This is vintage Grisham and an exciting read.
5 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 2, 2019

THE INQUISITOR'S WIFE by Jeanne Kalogridis


THE INQUISITOR’S WIFE  by Jeanne Kalogridis
The last 50 pages are heart thumping exciting. The rest of the book not so much.  I had high hopes for an interesting and illuminating story, but it was hard to get past the often jarring word usage. This book needed a good editor.
3 of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

THE WORD IS MURDER by Anthony Horowitz


THE WORD IS MURDER  by Anthony Horowitz

A woman plans her funeral in great detail, leaves the funeral home and six hours later is murdered – or maybe it was suicide.  The writing form used for this book (the actual author is a pretend/actual author telling the tale) is a bit off putting, but once you get beyond that the mystery is engrossing. 

Perhaps I read too many of Horowitz’s Alex Ryder books to be interested in his ruminations as the pretend/actual author. I wanted him to just get on with the murder/suicide and tell his tale.

Well drawn characters, several possible murderers, a convincing possibility for suicide – so which is it?  Get beyond his conceit and the mystery is a good one.

3 of 5 stars

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith


LETHAL WHITE  by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)
Although very long (647 pages) this outing for investigators Cormoran and Robin is compelling.  Strangled children, murder, crooked politicians, assumed identities, money and reputations, horses, and conflicted personal relationships keep the story moving along.  There are lots of red herrings and white horses to keep you wondering. Robin and Cormoran continue to present themselves as complex characters.
Galbraith is a master of plotting and characters. Set aside a goodly amount of time to savor this read, but it is worth it in the final moments of this tale!
5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

THE FLATSHARE by Beth O'Leary


The FLATSHARE by Beth O’Leary
The book started out as a ditsy sex filled romance. By page 25 I could hardly wait to get to page 50 (my self-imposed cutoff) so I could abandon it and read something worthwhile or just entertaining. And then…. It turned into an intelligent exploration of boy-friend emotional abuse.   Yes, the main character was still a bit of a ditz, but she made sense.  Her flatmate, a slightly repressed male nurse, and her friends started to sound sensible, although still somewhat sex-obsessed.
The characters were unique and well-developed. The story was interesting and full of realistic situations and common sense. Her controlling ex-boyfriend did all of the horrid things controlling ex-boyfriends do.  Her friends were supportive and intelligent.   Even the comic character, Kathrin, was authentic and original.
Altogether, a very nicely done romance with both heart and intelligence.
4 of 5 stars (for a trashy beginning)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING  by Delia Owens
WOW! Just WOW! This is a great book.  Murder, abandoned child, growing up alone, nature, young love, sex, ecology, love, poetry, betrayal, education, redemption, forgiveness, treachery -- it is all here. Well written with strong characters and even stronger biology, Owens debut novel is clearly a winner.
The North Carolina coastal region and the animals, birds, flowers, grasses, etc. are as much a character as the human in this book. Kya, Chase, Jumpin’, Mabel and Tate are the main humans in this beautiful elegy to nature and the human spirit. 
Saying too much more will spoil the “mystery” in the book, so just know that is a book that should not be missed.  Book groups will find much to discuss and ponder. Biologists and sportsmen/women will appreciate the accuracy of the science.
5 of 5 stars