Reviews by Peggy H. (North East, PA)

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The Critic's Daughter: A Memoir
by Priscilla Gilman
Homage to a Father (1/18/2023)
When I started this book, I knew nothing about the critic Richard Gilman or his works. The world that the author, his daughter, describes--New York City intelligentsia, artists, and writers is equally unknown. Yet I reveled in the vivid descriptions, and the touching memories of a well-loved father; it kept me awake remembering my own father.

The writing is exquisite; I am amazed that she remembers so many details of her childhood. Be prepared that she does not sugar-coat her father, he is a fully realized person. At the beginning of the book he is shown through child-like eyes, and then as she grows, so do his personality, faults, and virtues.
The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
by Colleen Oakley
Rollicking Good Read (10/25/2022)
How many books have crossed my path recently with a feisty and funny older person as the protagonist? Sadly, very few, with this exception! This was a great fast read, with some fun twists and turns. We get to take a road trip with an octagenarian, a 20-something, and a convicted felon, who wouldn't love that? Add in gangsters, dementia, and a jewel heist, and you are sure to love it.

I am very sad that Louise won't be in any sequels! I would love to see more adventures with her.
Natural History: Stories
by Andrea Barrett
Interesting View of an Extraordinary Woman (8/16/2022)
Natural History appears to follow, in some ways, the path of the author's previous book. It contains a number of short stories/novelas that ultimately are connected via a family tree. Each of the stories has a connection to Henrietta Atkins, an extraordinary woman, whose life did not turn out as she originally expected. The main theme to me is that life will take you on twists and turns that you could never anticipate; take your opportunities as they reveal themselves and relish them.
One's Company: A Novel
by Ashley Hutson
Spinning Out of Control (5/11/2022)
Although I enjoyed reading this book, I found I had to totally disconnect from any feelings of reality to become immersed in its world. And that is the point. Our heroine is seriously damaged goods and never gets the help that she so desperately needs to be able to function in the real world. The fact that so many people would take money to create this extreme fantasy world is jarring, but plausible.
The result is sad. What did I learn from the book? Never give up trying to help people with serious mental illness.
Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey
by Florence Williams
The Science Behind Heartbreak (11/14/2021)
Just as Nora Ephron dissects a breakup from an emotional (and funny) point of view, Florence Williams in "Heartbreak" tries to give meaning to her personal pain by scientific explanations. We follow her journey from learning that her 25-year marriage is in peril with all of the physical reactions of her body as well as the mental breakdowns over the course of several years. It is fascinating to learn that the loss of a loved one (not through death) creates real physiological changes. All of the information is extremely interesting and presented in a clear and easy to understand fashion.
Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Covers all the bases (9/11/2021)
This book hits many topical issues...control over a woman's body, mental health issues, abortion, eugenics, drug testing on poor uneducated people. Based on a real court case in Alabama. It is an upsetting story told in the form of a road trip with flashbacks. I would have rated the book higher except I had difficulty relating to the main character and her lack of insight into her own feelings. Her decision to finally move from being a nurse to doctor is glossed over.
The Sunset Route: Freight Trains, Forgiveness, and Freedom on the Rails in the American West
by Carrot Quinn
A Harrowing Read (7/15/2021)
If I didn't know that this book is written as a memoir vs fiction, I would have found it hard to believe. I still find it upsetting that a child could live like this in our country--where so many have so much. All of it is described in a very matter of fact tone; there is no "woe is me" here at all.
How many more children are out there eating out of dumpsters? How many people are in such need of mental health assistance? I marvel at the insight and intelligence of this woman to find a life from the scraps she is dealt. Although I would have liked a happy ending, in some ways the ending is more realistic, and not sad at all.
Everybody: A Book about Freedom
by Olivia Laing
Thought Provoking and Ingenious (5/22/2021)
When I started this book, there is no way I thought that I would be rating it as highly as I have. It is a bit dense, and it includes lots of information on figures that I knew nothing about, such as Wilhelm Reich and Amanda Martin. Laing ties together such disparate figures in ways that I would never have imagined...leaving me eager to discover what I can do to make the world better for all bodies.
Appleseed
by Matt Bell
A Depressing View of the Future (2/12/2021)
As a rule, I enjoy a well written sci-fi book--this one is a bit more complicated. It follows three separate threads: 2 brothers sowing apple seeds in colonial Ohio, a futuristic freedom fighter in a world that climate has destroyed, and a quasi-robotic being traveling in an ice covered even more future world.

It took me a while to get into the book, but the premises were interesting, if bleak. The choice of having a faun as one of the main characters is interesting, and, if I were inclined, I am sure that I could weave all kinds of interpretations into all of the characters.

It was worth it to finish the entire story...and thought provoking...but certainly not a beach read!
Piranesi
by Susanna Clarke
An Interesting Journey for our Times (9/2/2020)
I must admit, this book took a while for me to get into...I kept wondering,,what is the point? But like any good mystery, things are revealed meticulously. Once I was half way through, I found that I could not put it down.

In a world of stay at home, it seems fitting for the main character to be trapped in a world without realizing it. How many of us have created out own worlds and not seen the way out?

This book is not for everyone, but it is well written and thought provoking.
Ruthie Fear: A Novel
by Maxim Loskutoff
Tough Read (6/25/2020)
I found this a difficult book to get into. I started it and put it down and put it off, maybe because I have never been to Montana. The land and environment is as much a character of this book as Ruth herself.

Once I did get into the book (about a quarter way through), I zipped through it quickly. It is ambitious and touches on so many topics--the environment, the clash of the haves and have nots, the treatment of the indigenous through the eyes of a coming of age girl.

It ends up being a mix of Twin Peaks/Stranger Things with a weird and surprising ending. I am still shaking my head, mostly because I like things that surprise me.
The Prisoner's Wife
by Maggie Brookes
Unbelievable Story (2/13/2020)
At least once a year, a member of my bookclub suggests a WW2 or Holocaust novel, and, I must admit, we all groan...not another one. The premise of the novel, which is supposedly based on fact is indeed different. I will say that the first third of the book was tepid, and I was wondering how the author was going to make the situation believable. To my surprise, she did, and the balance of the book, although a bit draggy was intereresting. I suppose it COULD have happened..although the ending seemed a little contrived to me...like it had to be a happy ending after all the misery. Hmm...I am not so sure..although I WOULD have liked to have known what happened next!
Creatures
by Crissy Van Meter
Murky but enjoyable read (10/23/2019)
The story has been told before, mother leaves child with drifter father, child raises father. But the real characters here are the island and the sea which give the soul to the story.
The plot can be a bit confusing as we go back and forth in time in the life of the narrator. We gradually learn of the betrayals and abandonments that scar her life.
The references to sea creatures, however at times seem contrived, and don't add significantly to the story.
House of Stone
by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Slow start...good finish (1/15/2019)
I admit...it took me a while to get into this book. I was not as aware of the politics and history covered in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia but it begs me to learn more. The characters unfold slowly and thoughtfully as we learn the genesis of their current beings...all scarred and joined together in ways they either don't want to know or want to remember. It is haunting to read this in a world that continues to be so cruel and savage.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
by Anissa Gray
Family Mosaic (10/15/2018)
I truly enjoyed the subject matter of the book; many times I see charity functions for things and wonder...where does the money go; so this was an interesting premise.
But beyond that, it is really the story of family consequences and how we really don't see beyond what we want to see--even with the family members that we are supposedly the closest to. It took a bit to get used to the switching of voices--we had to get to know everyone, but that was the joy of the book. We did get to know everyone and figure out where each character was coming from. Looking forward to the next book from this author!
Vox
by Christina Dalcher
A Scary Future Vision (5/23/2018)
When I started the book, I sniffed a bit and thought, "Hmmph, a twisted future takeoff on Handmaiden's Tale," because I wasn't buying into the premise. The further into the book I read, however, as the history and the background of the status of the country was revealed...I have to admit...I looked up at the news on TV, shook my head, and wondered if I should move to Canada now. It's a good thought provoking read!
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
by Cherise Wolas
Couldn't Put It Down! (5/25/2017)
Yes, I agree..the beginning is a bit confusing, until you realize that it is really samples of the literary writing of the main character. But then you follow her though her struggles with wanting to write...and not planning to fall in love or have children...but does both..to the detriment of her writing.
It's a fine rendering of every woman's struggle of having to choose..because you can't do it all. And then you have to live with your choices. Great thoughtful read!
Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them
by Gina Kolata
Fascinating Read (10/30/2016)
I wasn't sure what to expect when I received this book, but I couldn't put it down. It was so intriguing and so fascinating, I found it hard to believe that it was true. This is thought provoking, not only about the ethical questions raised regarding genetic testing for this rare disease, but for issues in IVF, and even BRCA testing.
And my heart breaks when I think about the Amanda's future.
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation
by Anne Sebba
Amazingly Researched Book (8/4/2016)
This is a book crammed with facts and stories and more facts. It was not a particularly easy read, as there were many people (real people) were mentioned for a few paragraphs with background information in between.
The perspective and detail was fascinating, a real glimpse into lives of the times and the difficult choices that had to made.
These stories give insight into the France that is today, versus the sound bites to which we have become accustomed.
The Dark Lady's Mask
by Mary Sharratt
Truth can be Stranger than FictionHow (3/2/2016)
This book introduced me to real life feminist Aemilia Lanier. Part way through I had to do some research to see what was real about this character, and, to my surprise...it all was! And that is what made it really interesting and a great read. A wonderful addition to my Shakespeare trivia.
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