Reviews by Dorothy T.

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The Secrets of Mary Bowser
by Lois Leveen
Great historical fiction (4/29/2013)
This novel drew me in from the start, and kept my interest right through to the end. It deals with real people that I am sure most readers have never heard of; in fact, I was never really aware of the spy ring in the South that assisted the North and ultimately freed the slaves. Mary's courage and strength make her a character to remember. This is definitely one for the book clubs.
by Erik Larson
History made fascinating (4/22/2013)
Eric Larson has a great gift for taking historical facts--well documented--and, by focusing on individual persons, presents his readers with an engrossing tale. I recommend his books to anyone with even a little bit of interest in history.
Life After Life: A Novel
by Jill McCorkle
Not the masterpiece promised (4/16/2013)
The comments by the editor on the back of my copy promises that this novel is a masterpiece, but I cannot agree. While I liked some of the characters, and was touched by the short stories about some of the minor characters, I could not get past the overuse of profanity and obscenities that proliferated throughout the book. I think that a good writer should be able to portray a character's feelings and personality without resorting to that much of that language. As I was just about to give up entirely, I came to the story about Willis Hall; this is indeed writing at its best. So I stayed with the book, and was engaged in how the various storylines played out, that is, until I got to the end: I am afraid that the novel just stopped rather than ended when it came to the resolution of some of the plotlines.
The Plum Tree
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Another side of the story (1/27/2013)
Much has been told and written about the fate of the Jewish people and those who protected them in German territory during World War II. In this novel, the author shows us another side of the story, that is, how German families lived through the war years, how they coped with the disappearance of some of their neighbors, and how they felt about the activities of those in power. I'd always known that not all Germans were members of the party or supporters of its dogma, but Ms. Wiseman makes her point with strongly conceived characters and a compelling plot. Although at times she indulges in extensive flowery prose (I was sometimes tempted to hurry through it when I was eager to follow the action), she delivers a novel full of romance, suspense, and a grim reminder of what man's inhumanity can do.

This is a great read and a good one for book club discussions.
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Great historical novel (1/20/2013)
Geraldine Brooks has a great talent for combining mystery, family conflict, and religious persecution within a framework of historical truth that makes this novel really engrossing. The way she ties the seemingly insignificant clues together and to the people who are instrumental in the development of the journey of this revered book is remarkable. I look forward to reading more of her work.
The Aviator's Wife
by Melanie Benjamin
Good book for historical fiction readers (12/17/2012)
I began reading this novel with only a little prior knowledge about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, but Melanie Benjamin has whetted my appetite, and I am looking forward to reading more about this remarkable woman and reading some of her own writing.

Even though I knew beforehand the tragic outcome of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh's first child, I found that Melanie Benjamin managed to relate this part of the story with suspense and emotion, with a particular slant on the reaction of Charles at the time and throughout the rest of his life. The effect of this event on the Lindbergh's marriage is a strong theme that holds the story together, as well as the effect of the media and fan adulation on their lives. And this novel points up that a hero in private is not always what he seems to be in public.

I feel this book would definitely make a good choice for a book club selection.
The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Kate Morton is a master story-teller (11/19/2012)
I eagerly awaited the arrival of Kate Morton's new book and was not disappointed. Not only did this one keep me reading until midnight, it kept me awake after I turned out the light, going over details of the developments; this was especially true last night when I finished it. I am always amazed at how this writer knows how much of the story needs to be revealed and when to reveal it to keep the reader engrossed.
The House Girl
by Tara Conklin
The House Girl is an engrossing read (10/29/2012)
I have always thought that the words “page-turner” is a very descriptive term for a novel that keeps me engrossed in the story and sympathetic to the characters. "The House Girl" is all of that, and I stayed up a couple of nights until the late hours because I just had to know what happened next.

Josephine Bell stole my heart; she is a house slave in Virginia, and we pick up her story in 1852. In a way she is privileged: Her mistress has taught her to read and allows her to paint alongside her. But Josephine is enslaved and longs to run. Part of me wanted her to run, but part of me wanted her to stay, in fear of what would happen to her if she were caught.

Forward to New York City, 2004, to Lina Sparrow, a new lawyer and the daughter of Oscar, a famous, if not particularly financially successful, painter, who for many years has been keeping secrets from Lina about her mother, who was also an artist. Lina begins an investigation into the life of Josephine Bell, and concurrently, her curiosity about her mother is piqued by her father’s upcoming show of paintings of her mother. Like Josephine, Lina is a strong, well-developed character, and her relationship with Oscar is another slant on the age-old theme of a child’s ambivalence, taking steps to back away from dependence on the parent while still wanting the closeness they have always had.

I liked the way the author used letters as a clever way to move the story along without slowing down the action and magazine and newspaper articles to fill in some details.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels, stories about family dynamics, mysteries, or who might be looking for a great book club selection.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
by Alan Bennett
Uncommon little novel (10/15/2012)
This is a jolly little fairy tale (I had to keep reminding myself of that distinction) full of British humour and witty satire. I could identify with Her Majesty's obsession: When reading a good book, I frequently have put off housework and even showering and dressing until the afternoon because I had to read just one more chapter--which of course led to one more, and then one more.

My thanks to Will Schwalbe (The End of Your Life Book Club) for the recommendation.
The Marriage Plot: A Novel
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Disappointing (10/2/2012)
This novel is not what I was expecting. A review on the back cover states that this is "a grand romance in the Austen tradition." I didn't find that to be true, but I certainly found elements (like vulgar language and explicit sex) that Jane Austen mercifully never included in her work. I found the sections dealing with philosophy and literary theory very tedious and felt they did not add anything to the story. I never felt involved with the characters or cared about them. I did like the author's use of various characters' points of view to fill in details of events included earlier in the book.
The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe
More than a book about books (9/20/2012)
“How could anyone who loves books not love a book that is itself so in love with books?” (page 125).

I was intrigued by the title of this book and expected that it would deal with reading and books, and since I love books and reading myself, it seemed to be just the thing for me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is much more—it is a memoir and tribute to Mary Ann Schwalbe, the author’s mother, who died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago. As well as adding several volumes to my to-read list, I felt my own passions for reading good books renewed. Why should I waste precious time with poorly conceived and executed material? In other words, what would I spend my time reading if I knew that I only had a short time left to read? That is the idea I came away with, and I also grew to respect and admire Mary Ann Schwalbe.

Don’t think that this memoir is sad or maudlin; it is far from it. The author cleverly uses various books to connect with what is happening in his mother’s life, with her relationships with her family and friends, and her battle with cancer. It is thoroughly enjoyable and would be a great selection for book clubs and for people facing cancer or other serious illnesses as patients or those close to them.
The Pigeon Pie Mystery: A Novel
by Julia Stuart
A very fun read (8/15/2012)
Just as she did in her previous novel, "The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise," Julia Stuart has taken a cast of interesting characters--all with intriguing secrets or stories about their pasts--and has set them into a famous British landmark, this time Hampton Court Palace. The difference here is the time, the end of the 19th century, and the murder-mystery storyline. The heroine, Alexandrina--aka Mink--follows a labyrinth of clues to clear the name of her maid, and in the process is able to win the confidence of the various inhabitants of the novel. All this is presented with the author's trademark talent for humor and description that gave me the feeling I could see just what was going on. (Make my pie chicken, though, thank you.)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
History as engaging as good fiction (8/6/2012)
The subtitle gives an excellent summary of this book, but reading it takes you on a journey you won't soon forget. As in all good books, I learned a lot of things I didn't know before, like the invention of one of the carnival attractions we all take for granted, the economic depression (recession?) of the 1890s, and the Columbia Exposition of 1893 and the men who designed and built it. I also was reminded about the evil and cruelty that one man can inflict on others. Erik has a gift for story-telling that makes this an engaging read.
The Roots of the Olive Tree: A Novel
by Courtney Miller Santo
The symbol of the olive tree (7/13/2012)
The roots of the olive tree is not the symbol of this family, but rather the grafting of new species of olives onto established trees. I found this book a disappointment on several levels. I had difficulty becoming engaged in the lives and personalities of the characters, even as old family secrets were revealed, but I do give credit to the author for putting them in alphabetical order--it was very helpful for keeping the five women straight. I also felt that the novel didn't so much as end as it stopped; there were too many threads of the story that were not sewn up. The secondary story about the theory of aging was interesting and believable, and I liked the use of flashbacks to fill out the stories while keeping the present moving along.
A Hundred Flowers: A Novel
by Gail Tsukiyama
Under the Kapok Tree (6/20/2012)
Gail Tsukiyama has once again given readers a beautifully written novel that, unlike her other works that take place in Japan, is set in China during 1958, when the effects of Mao’s Communist regime is being felt among the people.

The story is driven by the characters of Kai Ying, her son Tao, and her father-in-law Wei. It is their journeys, both literal and within themselves, that drew me in. Each one must deal with the consequences of the absence of Sheng, Kai Ying’s husband, who was arrested and shipped off to a labor camp, and the effects on their relationships with each other. This author has a gift for making me feel like I am in the places she describes and for developing characters that I know and care about.

If you have yet to read one of her books, this is a good one to start with. If you are acquainted with her work, this one will not disappoint.
Turn of Mind
by Alice LaPlante
Engrossing novel (5/29/2012)
This is a combination of murder mystery and a psychological examination of declining memory due to the ravages of Alzheimer's and its effects on the patient and those around her. The novel is written in an innovative style, partly based on the central character's journal, that lends itself to the suspense and the portrayal of her mental states. I found it hard to put down, and I would definitely recommend it as a book club selection.
An Unmarked Grave: A Bess Crawford Mystery
by Charles Todd
Historical mystery set in WWI (5/1/2012)
Historical mysteries is not a new genre, but this is the first I have read that is set in France and England during World War I. This is the fourth book in the Bess Crawford Mysteries, and the central character is strong and likeable enough to carry the series, although I am not sure she is really a woman of her time. Bess is quite independent and self reliant in a way that makes her more suitable to a later era. That said, this is a well-written mystery, certainly not one that I was able to figure out before the end, and I did like the setting--sleuthing was definitely more difficult during the days before computers and cell phones.
A Good American: A Novel
by Alex George
Terrific story (4/21/2012)
There is not a dull moment in this book. The storyline about multiple generations of a German/American family is engrossing, and there are plenty of humorous situations. Alex George has plenty to say and he says it well. I could just hear that four-part barbershop quartet harmony!
Cloudland: A Crime Novel
by Joseph Olshan
More than an ordinary crime novel (4/10/2012)
I liked this book for a number of reasons: It is a mystery that let me think I had the answers to who and why--but, then again, maybe not; it sparked my interest to read more by Wilkie Collins (I love it when one author turns me on to other writers!); the characters are engaging and well-written, especially Henrietta the pot-bellied pet pig; and the prose is much more literary than the run-of-the-mill crime novel—although, as is often my complaint when reading contemporary fiction, I don’t see the need for the vulgar language.
The Commoner: A Novel
by John Burnham Schwartz
Uncommon novel (3/16/2012)
This author's writing style is gorgeous, although I admit I had to re-read a few passages to be sure I understood them. The setting--the Japanese Imperial court and its traditions and rituals--give the novel an exotic ambiance, but also drives the story. How can this centuries-old way of life continue to survive in our modern world? Haruko, the central character, is so well-drawn that her joys and heartaches affected me. I am looking forward to our book club discussion--there is much to delve into here.

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