Reviews by Viqui G. (State College, PA)

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The Lost Notebook of Édouard Manet: A Novel
by Maureen Gibbon
Notebook of Edouard Manet (7/8/2021)
I have no background in art or art history so I had a difficult time following this novel until I did some research on Wikipedia and other internet sources. Once I learned about Manet's background, the names of his friends and his importance in the art world I loved the "notebook"!

He was a very passionate man and artist and totally uncompromising in his work. His passionate artistic originality opened the door for many Impressionist artists that came after Manet was gone.

In addition to being an artist, Manet was also quite an amazing philosopher with opinions on aging, ephemeral love and beauty, death, and the delights of sexual encounters.

Maureen Gibbon did a wonderful job of bringing an important man and artist to life.
The Northern Reach
by W.S. Winslow
The Northern Reach (11/16/2020)
This was a delightful novel of extended families and their interactions living in a small town in northern Maine. The author gives us snapshots of these families in the novel's chapters. Some characters we meet several times such as Edith Baines who is introduced as a bitter old woman initially. However, in a subsequent story we meet Edith again as a very young, impressionable girl from a poor family. I enjoyed following these families throughout the span of the 5 or so generations that W. S. Winslow included in her novel. This novel is an enjoyable literary stroll through a town which is a microcosm of small town America in the past century.
Migrations: A Novel
by Charlotte McConaghy
Migrations (4/19/2020)
It has been awhile since I read a book that thoroughly captured me, but with "Migrations" I found that delight in reading again. The protagonist, Franny Stone, is intense, honest with herself and others and yet flawed in some ways. She is a very believable heroine. Her passion for all living things, especially birds, is all encompassing. However, her relationship with humans is complicated.

Franny's world is changing quickly; many of her beloved birds are becoming rapidly rare and even extinct. The reader follows Franny as she attempts to follow migrating terns to Antarctica. Along the way we learn about her past life and what made Franny the passionate and complicated woman that she is. If you want a great read with a lot of nuanced characters READ THIS NOVEL!
More News Tomorrow: A Novel
by Susan Richards Shreve
More News--? (4/9/2019)
The protagonist of the novel, Georgianna, found a letter from her dead father promising "More News Tomorrow". This was in reference to her mother's murder in 1941. As readers, we learn about the circumstances before the murder 66 years ago however, we are primarily in July 2008, with Georgianna and her family as she pursues "more news". I enjoyed the 'two story' writing. Learning first hand about the characters in 1941 made the search for details about the murder in present time more interesting. Characters were well fleshed out and sympathetic. The plot was engaging with many twists that were surprising, but still believable. Although I felt the ending was poor and lacked a satisfying conclusion, the novel would be great for discussion in a book club.
The Affairs of the Falcóns
by Melissa Rivero
Affairs of the Undocumented Mestizo (12/27/2018)
I liked the realistic portrayal of Ana as a poor undocumented worker. The author shows that she is undesirable in both Peru's society because she is a "chola" or mestizo as well as in the United States because she is an undocumented Hispanic. Rivero describes multiple layers of racism in these two societies. Ana has to constantly struggle to keep her family together and to pay bills and debtors. She does everything she can to reach these goals. She feels that the ends justify the means. However, one of the major dilemmas in the novel is that Ana's goals and those of her husband, Lucho, are not always the same, and their relationship suffers because of this.
Although the author did a good job of describing these conflicts, the result is that Ana is often not a very sympathetic character. It would be interesting for the reader to learn Lucho's point of view.
My major criticism of the novel was that Ana's story proceeded from one disaster to another disaster. Her situation became increasingly hopeless. Thus, the novel became increasingly difficult for me to read because it was so depressing. I realize that the plight of the undocumented in this country is not easy, but reading about an unsympathetic character that struggles unendingly is not my preference.
My Lovely Wife
by Samantha Downing
My Lovely Wife (10/29/2018)
Splendid novel! This thriller kept be enthralled to the end.. It truly was hard to put down. The characters were well drawn and the plot line had many twists and turns. The only reason I didn't give it a "5" rating was because the premise was quite disturbing. It didn't stop me from finishing the novel though! I will be on the look-out for Samantha Downing's next novel
Paris Echo
by Sebastian Faulks
Paris Echo (8/19/2018)
I found this novel interesting on many levels, but also overall unsatisfying. The author follows the lives of two disparate characters that become connected by chance. Hannah is a 30ish historical researcher and Tariq is a 17 year old Morroccan run-a-way who moves to Paris. Faulks introduces the concept of these characters stepping outside of their bodies to observe themselves interacting in several situations. I found this concept fascinating and thought provoking. Faulks also incorporated voices from women in Nazi-occupied Paris to tell the story of the women's struggles during the years of the Occupation. This also was very effective in capturing interest. However, although there were many interesting passages and interesting characters, I found the novel didn't sustain my interest. I think this is because the novel was too didactic for my tastes.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
The Girl Who Smiled Beads (3/19/2018)
Wow! Reading Wamariya's memoir of her refugee experience as a child then her early years in the US was both illuminating and excruciating.. I was amazed at the resilience and tenacity of both Claire and of course of Clementine during their years in Africa. But perhaps the most interesting part of the memoir was Clementine's description of her feelings and psyche after she was in the US and 'safe'. She was both grateful to be in a safe environment but also very angry. Her anger stemmed from her lost childhood but also the frustration that no one could really understand her feelings. She constantly tested her friends and family and admitted that she made it very difficult for others to love her. Wamariya's writing was very blunt and achingly honest. At times it was hard to read, but I feel enriched by knowing Wamariya's story.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure
by Shoba Narayan
Cows and Milk of India (12/26/2017)
In this intriguing book, Shoba Narayan introduces to the reader her love of her homeland of India and especially the cows of India. The relationship at the core of the book is between the author and Sarala, the "Milk Lady of Bangalore". Sarala sells her milk on a street corner near the author's apartment. Through this friendship, we learn abundant details about different types of cows, their unique milk flavor and consistency as well as the reverence that the Indian people have for everything bovine (including cow urine and dung). Although this book was entertaining to read, the stark (and sometimes shocking) cultural contrasts between India and the US were my most memorable impressions.
As Bright as Heaven
by Susan Meissner
As Bright as Heaven (10/25/2017)
Over the course of this novel, readers are taken from 1918 to 1926 with the Bright family. We learn about the love and devotion that binds this family together and then we read about the Spanish flu and how it devastated the Bright family as well as many other families in Philadelphia. The author does an excellent job of describing the major characters; their choices and actions always fit in their character. I recommend it for young people and for readers looking for a light novel. I would give it a rating of 4 except the plot includes too many coincidences that are unlikely and the ending is a bit too saccharin and predictable to be satisfying.
The Heart's Invisible Furies: A Novel
by John Boyne
The Heart's Invisible Furies (7/12/2017)
John Boyne has written a very readable novel with a remarkable protagonist, Cyril Avery. Cyril lives with shame/hidden conflicts related to his sexuality for his first 28 years of life and the first half of the novel. The second half of the story follows Cyril as he learns to live openly as a gay man and the joys and conflicts he encounters.Throughout his life's story, Cyril is often lonely and isolated; but he always likable to the reader, even when he makes poor decisions. I see Cyril's character as symbolic of the changing attitudes and eventual acceptance (for the most part) of homosexuality in Ireland, Europe and the US. Although I enjoyed the read, many themes were repetitive and too long. I think the novel would have been improved with tighter editing.
Lola
by Melissa Scrivner Love
Lola (3/7/2017)
I have read a lot of books and come across many protagonists, but I have never read a book quite as compelling as "Lola" or met a protagonist as exciting, believable and yet scary as Lola. The story arc was a little confusing at times, but the author quickly cleared up any confusion with extra details. Lola's life as the leader of a drug gang was almost like science fiction to me since I have no knowledge of that life. However, it all seemed believable and quite fascinating! The writing was fast paced and the dialogue flowed effortlessly. I strongly recommend this novel to adventuresome readers.
The Typewriter's Tale
by Michiel Heyns
An Independent Typewriter (1/15/2017)
I enjoyed this charming novel, set in the early 1900s, once I got "into" the writing style that author Heyns adopts from Henry James. Frieda Wroth, the Typewriter, is a bright and talented young woman from limited means who is eager to experience a world beyond the confines of Rye and Mr James' employment. She falls in love with the charming Mr. Fullerton very quickly and then chooses to interpret his actions and inactions with a skewed sense of reality. As a result, she makes a few bad decisions, but she finds her moral compass at the end.

The story is complicated with a lot of delightful dry humor. As a reader I was rooting for Frieda and I was relieved that Frieda eventually chose the "right" actions. This would be a great read for a literary book club.
Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them
by Gina Kolata
Mercies in Disguise (12/14/2016)
Genetic diseases are very chilling since there is no medication or antibiotic to "cure" them. This book was a fascinating true story of a family unknowingly affected by a genetic neurological disorder that we learn later in the book is GSS (Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker) disease. The author, Gina Kolata did a great job of explaining the difficult background research that helped scientists figure out the cause of these neurological diseases. She also introduced to the reader the concept that prion abnormalities in a parent could then be transferred to children of those affected parents. But Kolata humanized the research and medicine by telling us about the Baxter family and their agonizing struggle with their emerging knowledge about the disease that was ravaging some of their members. Kolata's writing is informative but also full of compassion.

This book was excellent and very readable. I heartily recommend it to anyone, especially to anyone who is interested in medicine or science.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
Caught in the Revolution (11/16/2016)
I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this book because I learned a lot of information about the Russian revolution/s. I also liked the fact that the reader is following the upheaval in Petrograd in successive order. It adds a realistic sense of drama and foreboding which I'm sure was present in that city in 1917. As a middle class person in the 21st century it is a little hard to imagine the extremes of violence that occurred in Petrograd that year. However, the author's depictions of the depths of poverty and starvation vs the wealthy lifestyle of the rich Russians made it easier to understand the reason for the revolutions. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a birds-eye view of the dissolution of the Russian tsarist rule and ensuing revolt of the populace that lead to the Russian revolution.
The Imperial Wife
by Irina Reyn
The Russian Wives (7/11/2016)
This novel alternates the stories of two ambitious women who have to struggle to become successful. The author compares and contrasts Catherine the Great's life with that of present day Tanya Vandermotter, a Russian art expert working for an art auction house. Both women have common traits: they are both immigrants and feel isolated from their family culture. They are willing to sacrifice personal relationships to get ahead. They confront moral dilemmas along their path of success which causes them to make difficult choices. Although the author parallels these womens' story arc, the result is sometimes a bit contrived because the differences in Catherine's closeted and isolated world in 1700's Russia is hard to compare with Tanya's busy jet-setting world based in present day NYC. However, the author's writing is fluid and intelligent and usually easy to follow. Overall, the novel was enjoyable and the topic was enlightening. Unfortunately there was a lot of 'over the top' description of immigrant angst and the ending was weak so I only gave the novel 3 stars.
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
by Antonia Hodgson
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins (1/1/2016)
I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced novel of murder and especially intrigue in early 18th Century London. The protagonist, Tom Hawkins, is a charismatic rakish "gentleman" who loves excitement and can't stay out of trouble. The novel starts with a scene where Tom is on a cart headed to the gallows for a murder he did not commit. The rest of the story is a flash back to explain his predicament. The background story is an exciting "who-done-it" with many interesting characters including Queen Caroline, wife of King George II. This is a very readable novel full of plot twists and fully fleshed characters from all walks of life. I highly recommend it.
Every Anxious Wave
by Mo Daviau
Every Anxious Wave (10/30/2015)
This is one of the most original novels I have read in a long time. It was hard to wrap my head around wormholes and time travel, but the character portrayals carried the story and kept me reading. The author fleshed out both Karl and Lena, the "odd couple" in this story so well that I feel like I could recognize them if I met them in a bar (in the present at least!). I also loved that Wayne, Karl's best friend found peace, happiness and acceptance in a totally different world. I strongly recommend this novel to adventuresome readers who are willing to suspend present reality for a possible future reality of time travel and asteroid collisions. I would give this 5 stars except the ending got a little too confusing and funky to follow. In general though, an exciting and original novel!
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
by Matthew Dicks
The Perfect Comeback (6/13/2015)
Caroline Jacobs finally decides to confront her old best friend about an injustice 25 years ago while they were in high school together. This is the main impetus of the plot and it actually sounds a little trivial, right? However, the author introduces other dilemmas in Caroline's life that make this novel richer and more thought provoking than I expected. However, I was disappointed that the author didn't round out some of the other important characters such as Polly, Caroline's daughter and her mother, Penelope.

The novel was an enjoyable and a quick read. I would recommend it to young people and especially teenage girls since many of the themes are related to teenage/high school situations involving girl friends, parents and cliques.
Still Life Las Vegas
by James Sie
Coming of Age in Las Vegas (5/18/2015)
This novel is a powerful and absorbing family saga, a story of terrible losses as well as a unique coming of age story. Through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards we learn part of the past history of Owen and Emily and the tragedy in their lives. Then the author focuses on their now 17 year son and main character, Walt Stahl. Walt works as a tour guide at the "Viva Las Vegas" museum and somehow supports his ill father. His life experiences are very limited until he meets Chrysto, a charming and handsome Greek still life model that Walt has been drawing. His relationship with Chrysto becomes all-consuming and stretches Walt's previous boundaries. The author writes exceptionally well and the book was engaging and difficult to put down. He also uses graphic illustrations very effectively to help the reader understand Walt's perceptions of his family history. I particularly liked the novel because of its unique subject matter. Very enjoyable!
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