Reviews by Becky H

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The Lace Reader
by Brunonia Barry
Still don't know what lace reading is (12/26/2012)
The Lace Reader begins with an interesting premise, but quickly bogs down in fairly incomprehensible detail of lace reading. Towner is a beguiling character whose personality unfolds as the tale is revealed. She was what kept me reading. The “lace reading” of the title was so shallowly explained that I simply skimmed those parts (which did NOT harm the plot in the slightest). I wondered if the author was any clearer in her understanding or knowledge of lace reading than I was.
Cal, the prime antagonist, is drawn with no redeeming qualities and consequently is quickly boring although necessary as catalyst. The “Calvinist” group he leads is so skimpily explained that you are never sure what they stand for or why they act as they do. Rafferty, the “hero”, is more surely drawn, which makes him fascinating to discover as he is revealed.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for book groups. There are many topics for discussion – mental illness, mental and physical abuse, religious fervor, witchcraft, the ties between twins, self-help groups, charismatic leaders (both good and bad) and the influence they maintain over others and their responsibility for the group’s actions.
The Racketeer
by John Grisham
Dealing with the feds is challenging (12/17/2012)
This vintage Grisham mystery will appeal to fans and new readers as well. The Racketeer is the tale of an innocent (and now former) lawyer who is out to redeem himself by squealing on a murderer and thief. The main character, Malcolm Bannister, posits a scheme to the FBI to gain his exoneration and freedom by giving them the name and motive for the torture and murder of a federal judge and the woman with him.
You will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot as Malcolm enters the Witness Protection system and gradually gives the feds what they want.
Sweet Tooth: A Novel
by Ian McEwan
The spy story that isn't (12/8/2012)
In Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan has used lots of lovely words and strung them together in lots of lovely ways. Unfortunately this does not make a lovely story. It is in many ways a deadly bore. To say that Sweet Tooth is tedious is an understatement. There are too many incidental characters and incidents that have no relevance to the story as red herring or plot line or character development. Perhaps what McEwan really wrote was a very good short story when what he (or his publisher) wanted was a novel. Is the writing good? Yes. Does that make me like this book? No. I finished the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. This is the first Ian McEwan book I have read. I doubt I will read another.
This novel may have been a very good short mystery or short romance. It just doesn’t work as a longer novel. The main character – Serena Fromme – is, to put it quite bluntly, an unlikeable twit. Unfortunately for the reader she is surrounded by more unlikeable twits, self-absorbed males, pompous asses and other assorted denizens of Cold War London. Unlike Serena I actually enjoy the process of reading. I like to savor the characters, imagine the outcome of the plot, thrill at the word usage and become involved with the unfolding of the story. The one character I DID like was Shirley. I wanted to know more about her – why she left MI5, how she came to become a successful beauty, why she made such a generous offer to Serena, her interactions with Max and Tom….. Yet Shirley was given little to do except tie up loose ends in a most unsatisfactory manner.
I found some of the structural parts of the book to be annoying. First I HATED the occasional italic phrases. They were simply a distraction. I also found the insertion of Tom’s current works annoying. They were too long and detailed. Although both of these were explained in the last chapter, it did not help me in the actual reading enjoyment of the book.
I have thought about recommending Sweet Tooth to another. First, no one should ever recommend a book without first reading it cover to cover. In recommending this book I would feel compelled to state why I didn’t like it. Secondly, I would only recommend this book to someone who was also a voracious reader and one who was willing to devote many pages before disbanding reading. Thirdly, I would NOT say this was a spy novel, or a romance, but instead present Sweet Tooth as a demonstration of literary devices.
I might toss Sweet Tooth into the mix of possible book group choices (we usually choose our 10-12 books from a group of 20-24 books recommended by members who have already read them). We have chosen books in the past that were only lukewarm in their recommendation. It often makes an interesting discussion as members tell why and what they didn’t like and how they might have changed the book.
Safekeeping
by Karen Hesse
There is always hope (9/12/2012)
The pictures are lovely, the story is at first depressing, but then hopeful. After the president is assassinated and a splinter - almost terrorist group - takes over the USA, a teenager returns home to discover her parents missing. With no money and on the run from the "authorities", she flees to Canada on foot. Along the way she meets helpful people and very scary people and learns she has much more self reliance than she had ever imagined. She also learns that Americans will correct "mistakes." A great book for teenagers. The teenager in my house loved it.
(I received this book free from the publisher.)
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
by Margot L. Stedman
The Light Between the Oceans (9/1/2012)
A beautifully written tale that uses description to draw the feel of island and mainland, love and depression, fear and deceit. The dread, confusion and fear of a mother torn from her child and a child torn from her mother will stay with you long after you finish the final page as will the love of a man for his wife and child, the devotion of a mother to her child and the web of entangling emotion that seals a family for ever and ever and ever.
The Baker's Daughter: A Novel
by Sarah McCoy
The Baker's Daughter (8/28/2012)
A "feel good" newspaper feature is the link between the horrors of Germany during WWII and two women with secrets in present day El Paso, Texas. Both women's stories are compelling in themselves and as their lives intersect over the delicacies wrought by one and eaten with gusto by the other, the selfishness, cruelties, pettiness as well as the generosity, kindness, sacrifice they and other displayed are slowly revealed. A great book for discussion. Book groups will find a wealth of "modern" issues to discuss.
The Pigeon Pie Mystery: A Novel
by Julia Stuart
The Pigeon Pie Mystery (8/28/2012)
What a lovely book! I enjoyed the descriptions of life in a "grace and favor" residence during the time of Queen Victoria. The characters are delightful and the mystery intriguing. The only thing I thought lacking was the "romance" of Mink, the main character. I was glad to have the map of Hampton Court when Mink and Pooki were traveling about the grounds. I laughed often at the antics of the various residents. Altogether a most satisfying read. I'm looking forward to more from this author.
Broken Harbor: A Novel
by Tana French
This one kept me guessing (8/11/2012)
This book is peopled with interesting characters that grow on you and with the plot. A bit draggy in some spots, but well written and riveting as the plot progresses. Some points for discussion are the detective's comments that "murder victims get what they were looking for" on page 26 and "what you expect is what get from life" on page 159-160. Is it true that "once you fall, the next time it gets easier and easier" on page 448. Did Scorcher make the right choices?
Defending Jacob: A Novel
by William Landay
Boring beginning and middle (5/26/2012)
I almost quit reading this book several times, only the glowing reviews kept me going. The first 3/4 of the book had me wondering why anyone would think this whiney, self-serving and self deluded man would be a good ADA. Jacob and Laurie were simply afterthoughts. Only the last 1/4 was interesting and by that time I knew what the ending would be.
If you really, really like psycho babble and navel gazing you might like this book, otherwise skip it.
The Age of Miracles: A Novel
by Karen Thompson Walker
A YA book for adults? (5/20/2012)
As a former 4 - 12 school librarian I was intrigued by this novel that follows a middle schooler - Julia - and how the changes, both internal (she is growing up) and external (the world's rotation is slowing down), affect her actions and reactions to her life, her friends and her family. I could not decide if this was a YA (young adult) novel that would appeal to adults or an adult novel that would appeal to teens. Many of the topics covered - illness, adultery, death, loss of friendships, ecological disaster - are adult topics conveyed in a very adult manner and yet the narrator is a 6th grader dealing with these topics over the course of perhaps two years. There is a certain hopelessness and inevitability to the novel that may be very disturbing to the reader. This novel might be appropriate for a parent/child book group.
I appreciated the work on the part of the author to give reality to the science fiction part of the novel. The response of the world and its inhabitants to the rotational slowing felt logical and "real."
The Dressmaker: A Novel
by Kate Alcott
Aftermath of a disaster (4/23/2012)
The Dressmaker follows the life of Lady Duff-Gordon (real person) and her "maid/dressmaker" Tess Collins (based on a real person) after the sinking of the Titanic. I found the parts relating to the hearings and the dressmaking/couture business most informative and interesting. The love story was just okay. Anyone interested in the Titanic will like this book that mixes real people and fictional ones to bring the aftermath of the disaster to life. The bit about the emerging social changes relating to women's position and workplace culture will be fodder for book group discussions as well.
The Lifeboat: A Novel
by Charlotte Rogan
afloat and drifting (3/31/2012)
This book held my attention simply because I needed to know who survived and who didn't as well as the back story of Grace Winter. The book is well written with believable characters and a growing sense of the horror of the situation on the lifeboat. Unfortunately many answers are simply missing and the reader is left with as many questions (if not more) at the end as when the book began. As a character study it is excellent, as a mystery there is a definite lack. A book group would find much to discuss as well as to complain about. If your group needs resolution - avoid this book. If your group thrives on speculation - this is the book for you. (This book was provided free by the publisher.)
The House of Velvet and Glass: A Novel
by Katherine Howe
an upper class look at the early 20th century (3/3/2012)
I really enjoyed this book. After a slow start and getting used to the jumps in place and time, I found House of Velvet and Glass to be a compelling look at the early 20th century. A book group would find the drug use (opium), the early psychology/sociology instances, the expectations for men and women, dress and table manners, and the social class divide/discrimination would all make good topics for discussion. I found the characters believable and the plot flowed easily. The use of "real" people gave color to the events (Titanic & Lusitania) and lent credibility to the story.
The descriptions of rooms, clothing, manners and social interactions as well as the descriptions of spiritualism and opium dens added to my enjoyment of the story. I started reading expecting "chick lit" and found something much more substantial. As a high school librarian I think many older teens would enjoy the book. The book would work for a mother/teen book group.
Arcadia: A Novel
by Lauren Groff
The 60's were better than this book (12/6/2011)
I really wanted to like this book. I tried very hard to like it. I just couldn't. I didn't like the characters. I didn't like the lack of quotation marks. I didn't like Arcadia house or most of its inhabitants. I found it really irritating that Hannah was depressed (maybe) but you never knew why she acted the way she did. Handy had very few redeeming qualities. Bit was just ...Bit. I detested Helle. The plot wandered so much I lost track of it. The writing DID show that the author knew how to put words together -- often in lyrical and surprising ways. It just wasn't enough to make this a compelling read. I was really hoping for more. I was disappointed. I have a book group with 44 members. I can't think of one of them that would enjoy this book.
The Sweetness of Tears: A Novel
by Nafisa Haji
great book club book (2/27/2011)
I laughed and cried my way through The Sweetness of Tears. Jo, the main character, is a young woman who discovers an evolving family and encounters both Christian and Muslim societies in far flung corners of the world as she delves into family secrets in a search for her own identity. She and all the characters are clearly defined and true to themselves. Some of the passages are achingly beautifully written - almost poetic as love, despair, tragedy and redemption are presented.

Because the book is written in first person by the various characters over three generations, you need to pay attention to who is speaking as you start each chapter. I did need to keep a list of all the characters and their relationship to each other as the book progressed. That said, the story carries you along easily. Especially helpful is the glossary of unfamiliar terms. Book groups will find a multitude of topics for discussion. I give this book 5 1/2 stars out of 5! Once I started reading I needed to quickly continue, staying up late to finish. Now I need to reread the book to savor the characters and their story.
The Mysterious Howling: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book I
by Maryrose Wood
I loved this book! (2/3/2011)
I received this book as an ARC some time ago and found it delightful. I laughed out loud and yet was moved almost to tears. I am a retired children's librarian and I most heartily recommend this book to all the children and adults who loved Mary Poppins and Daddy Long Legs with bits of Diane Duane thrown in. There is enough mystery to keep a reluctant reader reading, enough weirdness for the boys and enough pluckiness for the girls.

I can't wait for the sequel!
Gone Tomorrow: A Jack Reacher Novel #13
by Lee Child
Read the first book in the series before this one (10/8/2010)
I spent the first 100 pages (540 pages total) wondering why an apparently homeless man had apparently unlimited funds to buy new clothing and various train, bus and metro tickets along with meals and hotels. I spent the second hundred pages trying to keep all the convoluted situations and people straight. Then I got caught up in the story. The various twists and turns were tightly plotted and were believable. The details (startling blue eyes and well-kept political secrets) were spot on. I'm glad I stuck with it and now want to read the earlier books in this 14 book series to find out how and why Jack Reacher became a tenacious loner who isn't afraid to get involved in someone else's troubles. If you haven't read Reacher novels before I would recommend reading at least the first one before tackling this one.
Man in the Woods
by Scott Spencer
Thriller?, Not So Much (7/11/2010)
I really liked, maybe even loved, the writing. I liked the author's pacing, his sentence structure and his word usage. I liked the characters and that you really got to know them (except Ruby who always seemed a mystery both to me and to the writer).
What I didn't like was the story. Except for three heart pounding pages there was no "thrill" to it. The end left me flat. It seemed as if there was a chapter missing - the last one where all the stories (there are at least 5) would come to their conclusions. If you are looking for beautiful writing and finely drawn characters, you will love this book. If you are looking for a thriller or a mystery, you need to keep looking.
Ten Minutes from Home: A Memoir
by Beth Greenfield
fascinating, but depressing (5/1/2010)
I almost quit reading this book detailing the searing grief when the author's brother and best friend are killed in a car accident. It was overwhelming to read the devastation of the loss in her family. I could only read in small snatches, although there was something compelling that kept bringing me back to read more. This book might be a panacea to someone who has suffered a similar loss.
Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy
by Melissa Milgrom
interesting but flawed (12/29/2009)
I really wanted to like this book. The people discussed were interesting. The topic of taxidermy is so odd that it in itself is interesting. The references to the Smithsonian, historical museum exhibitions and dioramas were compelling. (I'm a docent at a well known history museum.) Unfortunately the writing was so bad I found myself paying so much attention to the writing - wandering chronology, paragraphs with several subjects or no subject at all, incomprehensible sentences, and strange metaphors - I could not attend to the subject and often exceptional information. This book needs a good editor. There is a good book here, you just can't find it.

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