Reviews by Dorothy T.

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The Beginner's Goodbye
by Anne Tyler
A different look at grieving (3/3/2012)
First of all, why do characters named Dorothy always seem to be old and dumpy? It is especially unnerving now that I am old and dumpy myself!

Ok, on to the subject. We hear so much about the stages of grief: denial, anger, sadness, acceptance--or however they go--but Anne Tyler has given us another perspective. Our widower, Aaron, learns to sort out his memories of his late wife and their relationship and finds his own way to deal with his loss. As the scripture says, the truth will set you free. I was drawn in by her opening line and then by her believable and likeable characters (yes, even dumpy Dorothy). This is a good book for Anne Tyler fans, those new to her work, and for book clubs looking for a shorter read that still holds plenty to discuss.
Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves
by Kristina McMorris
Good read about a bad time (2/26/2012)
This is not the first book I have read about the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II and the plight of POWs in Japanese camps, but it is definitely more heart-wrenching, as it includes the pain and regret of things said and done, or not said or done. But there is also a great deal of hope and healing for the characters. Kristina McMorris shows a true gift for character development, and her arrangement of the story keeps the suspense building. She handles well the conflict of cultures and how her characters build the bridges to span the divide. You don't need a book club to appreciate this one, but book club members will appreciate the discussion it will inspire.
King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village
by Peggielene Bartels, Eleanor Herman
Long live King Peggy (2/18/2012)
King Peggy (Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI) gave me insight into the ordinary lives of not so ordinary people in a place I can only read about. I can’t imagine a life with no running water or flush toilets--thankfully, the people of Otuan have cell phones with great coverage--much less know how to govern these people.

The descriptions of the area, from the rutted roads to the ravaged palace, and of the people, comical or larcenous, bring the story to life. I particularly enjoyed reading about the unusual traditions and rituals that are a part of life in Ghana, such as pouring liberal amounts of liquor (or in some cases Coke) to attain the blessings of the ancestors before events like the enstoolment of a new king. At the same time, business owners are careful to choose names like By the Grace of God Brake and Clutch Center, believing that a religious reference would bring them good luck.

I finished this book amazed at King Peggy and how much she accomplished in just the first two years of her reign in spite of many obstacles and with the help of some loyal subjects. It is no wonder that the people of Otuan have come to love their king.
The Look of Love: A Piper Donovan Mystery
by Mary Jane Clark
Average mystery (2/11/2012)
This is a mystery that just fills the basic requirements of the formula: several likely candidates as the murderer, the heroine in peril at the climax, and a tease of a romance. I knew who not to suspect, because the most likely characters are never the perpetrators in these things. I had hopes that the central character, Piper Donovan, was going to prove to be a modern-day Nancy Drew, but she didn't seem interested in putting together any clues other than how to make frosting. The romance angle was disappointing--maybe the author has ideas for this in the next installment?

Over all, this is entertainment for the dentist's waiting room, or maybe while relaxing by the pool at your favorite spa.
The Language of Flowers: A Novel
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Great read! (2/9/2012)
I like how the structure of this novel--switching between the past and the present--kept me engaged all through the read, as well as the characters, main and secondary, and the themes of love and loss, mothers and daughters. There is much here for book club discussions.

I am looking forward to Vanessa Diffenbaugh's next work.
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
by David McCullough
A Great Journey (2/8/2012)
David McCullough has crafted a book full of well-defined characters who live and work in a well-imagined setting, and compelling action sequences that make this a real page-turner. But, wait! This isn’t a novel? No, it’s history written in a most readable style. McCullough has a way of drawing in the reader to care about his subjects, so that the circumstances move the story along. Through the course of the book I learned about the history of Paris from 1830 through 1900 and the American artists, architects, sculptors, writers, and physicians who studied and worked in Paris during that time. There are no dry dates and data here, but there is plenty of insight into how the arts are learned and created. I found the art and photographic reproductions a great bonus as I was introduced to figures I never knew before and as I read about figures I thought I knew already.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy: A Novel
by Margot Livesey
Companion to a classic (12/16/2011)
There is no disguising that “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” is a re-telling of the classic novel “Jane Eyre”; in fact, the author makes that clear before the reader even begins. There is also no doubt that our heroine Gemma is Margot Livesey’s own creation, a resilient character that I found likeable right from the start. Like Jane, her choices may not always be the wisest, but there is no whining, just determination to move forward. I was happy to travel along with her.

The characters, including the cruel aunt and the moody hero with a secret, the settings, including the dismal boarding school and the large stately home of Gemma’s employer, echo the original, and are all well-imagined; the storyline, though not as intense as the original, is just as absorbing. The 1960’s modern time frame is well-chosen. (I am not sure that this would work as well set in the age of the internet and cell phones with a GPS app, but I wouldn’t mind reading an attempt by some talented author.)

This may not turn out to be a new classic, but it certainly makes a worthy companion to Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.”
Caleb's Crossing: A Novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Great read (11/14/2011)
On many levels, this novel is so satisfying: the characters are compelling, the writing provides suspense, and the descriptions of the settings put the reader into the time and place. This is the first novel by Geraldine Brooks that I have read; I am eager to read her earlier work.
The Sisters: A Novel
by Nancy Jensen
Sad sisterhood (11/4/2011)
This novel shows how one misunderstanding--one missed communication--between sisters Mabel and Bertie can nullify Mabel's sacrifices. It underlines the serious consequences of Bertie's stubborn heart that have an ill effect on her, the next generation, and then even the next. I wish I had come away with a more hopeful feeling when I finished the book, but it is a good read with well-defined characters. Book clubs would have much interesting discussion on several topics.
The Buddha in the Attic: A Novel
by Julie Otsuka
A novel approach (10/7/2011)
This book is called a novel, but seems like a documentary. It has no main character, yet it feels like there is one. There is no plot, but it is a story that moves to a climax and a conclusion, and moves the reader's emotions with it. I know this review may seem enigmatic, but I encourage you to give this little book a try as the author seeks to give a voice to an unsung group of women in California history.
The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
by Téa Obreht
Original fiction (9/10/2011)
This novel is a mixture of reality and fantasy, but it's choppy construction and large group of characters make it hard to follow and the ending unclear. The author may be on to something original; it may be interesting to see what she does next.
Falling Together: A Novel
by Marisa De Los Santos
Falling together or apart? (9/3/2011)
This novel has a lot to recommend it: engaging characters, a remarkable story-line, colorful settings, and underlying themes of love, life, death, and relationships, all providing great fodder for book club discussions. I was disappointed with the conclusion of one part of the story—I would have expected more emotion, perhaps—but the ending is satisfying. I enjoyed the author’s penchant for parenthetical enlightenment, but I was annoyed with the overuse of obscenities (indeed, I fail to see the need for any use of them).
Next to Love
by Ellen Feldman
Not quite finished (8/15/2011)
The home front during World War II and into the 1950’s has always interested me, but with this novel I think Ellen Feldman takes on too much and doesn’t fulfill her ambitions. She wants the reader to become involved in the lives of the three central women characters, but I never was convinced that they were close friends on a deep level. She wants to show the horrors of war--the heartbreak of loss and the unseen scars of those who returned; the injustice of racism and prejudice; the joys and heartbreaks of marriage, and sex, in many of its varieties. She shows us all these, yet she leaves off just as I felt she was going to explore them more fully or bring some resolution for the characters. This, of course, would have resulted in a longer novel, or required a more focused approach.

It's a jungle out there! (8/7/2011)
Ann Patchett has a talent for putting her readers deep within the setting of her novels and also for using well-imagined characters to draw us into the story. Lost luggage and swarms of flying biting critters aside, I really enjoyed this.
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms: A Novel
by Gail Tsukiyama
A Thousand Blessings (7/29/2011)
This is only the second book by Gail Tsukiyama I have read--The Language of Threads was the other and it led me to read this one. I was intrigued to learn about the sumo culture--it erased my silly notions based on stereotypes--and the art of creating Noh masks. The book also gave me a chilling look at WWII from the other side. This is a gifted author who pulled me into the story, never letting the big picture get in the way of the finely drawn characters.
by Hillary Jordan
Tackling tough issues (7/18/2011)
This is an engaging read and would lead to great discussions in a book club. The characters are carefully developed and the story moved me along and pulled at my emotions.
Drawing in the Dust
by Zoe Klein
Mystery and archaeology (7/4/2011)
This was a slow-starter for me, but the pace picked up as the intrigue started. At times I had a DaVinci Code flashback, but if the reader accepts this novel for what it is, it can be an enjoyable read. It should lead to some thoughtful book club discussions.
Minding Frankie: A Novel
by Maeve Binchy
A joy to read (6/29/2011)
Maeve Binchy doesn't often write deep literary fiction--Circle of Friends fits that category certainly--and this novel doesn't qualify, but reading her books is always a joy. I never miss a new one. Minding Frankie has the characters and the conflicts Maeve Binchy develops so well, and as always I am left with a desire to see Ireland.
The Borgia Betrayal: A Poisoner Mystery Novel
by Sara Poole
No end in sight (6/22/2011)
This is the second book in what will likely be a series, as promised by the author, and therefore offers no closure regarding the main character, Pope Alexander VI's poisoner, Francesca, and her struggle with her inner darkness, her relationships, or her obsession with taking revenge against the "mad priest" responsible for her father's murder. While the intrigue and the various persona, both real and imagined, keep the story moving along, I personally found the repetitive and explicit sexual scenes both absurd and unnecessary. I can't recommend this unless you are willing to make a long commitment.
My Name Is Mary Sutter
by Robin Oliveira
Not for the faint of heart (5/24/2011)
When I first read about this book and decided to read it, I did not expect grueling descriptions of battles and amputations. However, the story, the characters, and the themes of guilt, ambition, and self-awareness are more than enough to recommend this great debut novel.

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