Reviews by Dorothy T.

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Juliet's Nurse
by Lois Leveen
A honey of a novel (7/11/2014)
I really enjoyed this story of Romeo and Juliet told from the point of view of Juliet's nurse. Lois Leveen has done an amazing job of setting the scene, portraying the atmosphere of the place and time (making me grateful that I was not born into that time period and especially that I did not give birth then), and fleshing out the backgrounds of some of Shakespeare's characters. The twists the plot takes kept me totally involved. Leveen also uses the language of Shakespeare in her dialogue, some lines actually borrowed from the original play. There is much of the sensuous here and much to be savored. This novel does not detract from the original, it enhances it.
Accidents of Marriage
by Randy Susan Meyers
Accidents of Marriage (6/18/2014)
I almost gave up reading this book after the first 50 pages because of the unlimited use of foul language, particularly the popular f-word, and because I didn't like the characters of Ben and Maddy. It is not that the language improved--in fact it got worse until the end--but I became interested in the aftermath of the accident. I can understand the use of bad language to illustrate character qualities, emotions such as anger, and an effect of a traumatic brain injury, but with a little more effort I believe an author can find other ways to do this.

This novel gives a very depressing view of marriage, parenting, and family. It does serve to point out, however, that a family that is not founded on some set of clear principles, be it Christian, Jewish, or a mixture of both (these are the backgrounds of Ben and Maddy) or some other belief, is likely to crumble apart.

I expect this book will end up as fodder for book club discussions but not for me.
The Fortune Hunter
by Daisy Goodwin
Riding, romance, and royalty (6/9/2014)
I had never heard of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria before I began reading this book (of course, I have since been to see her on the internet), so I was intrigued by this story. Sisi is a woman who apparently has everything, but in reality she is very unhappy, seemingly because, as her lady-in-waiting Countess Festetics notes, she has nothing upon which to focus her talents besides her beauty, and as that begins to fade she becomes lost. She comes to England to participate in the fox hunts, hoping to fill those empty spaces.

As I noted in my title, this work of historical fiction has all the elements to appeal to a wide variety of readers. The fictional story lines and little-known or imagined characters are well-done. Daisy Goodwin has a knack for this genre. I plan to read her first book, The American Heiress, sometime in the future.
China Dolls
by Lisa See
China Dolls (4/17/2014)
I was excited to have an opportunity to receive and review this latest novel from Lisa See, who has been one of my favorite authors since I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, then later Shanghai Girls. See has a gift for placing her characters in intriguing historical settings and also for weaving an intricate tale of three women of diverse backgrounds whose relationships with each other are so complicated and emotionally evocative that as I continued reading, I had numerous changes of heart about whether I liked or disliked these women in turn. I did find much to admire in the way each overcame challenges.

Whether you are already a fan of Lisa See or have never read her work, I heartily recommend China Dolls.
Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival
by Clara Kramer
A heart-wrenching story (3/30/2014)
This is not the Diary of Anne Frank. As riveting as that story is, this one--also true, of course--is more frightening and more horrifying. I cannot imagine witnessing the death of friends and family or living underground in a confined space with 17 other people for eighteen months with little food, fresh air, or bathroom facilities. There are many holocaust stories, all of which need to be told. As difficult as this one is, I recommend it. Clara is someone I am glad I got to know.
The House at Tyneford: A Novel
by Natasha Solomons
Great read (3/21/2014)
I couldn't give this novel five stars because of the unnecessary use of rough language (I thought that since this was set during World War II that I would avoid the f-word, but not so).

The blurb on the book compares this with "Downton Abbey" and Kate Morton's "The Forgotten Garden"; the first is obvious, but I failed to see any similarity with the second. That being said, this is a terrific read: well-developed characters, appealing settings of time and place, and an engaging storyline. Make the time for this one!
Mimi Malloy, At Last!
by Julia MacDonnell
Memories light the corner of my mind (2/24/2014)
I was not very sympathetic toward the main character of this novel, Mimi Malloy, a reluctantly retired 60-ish divorcee with six daughters, but as the story was told, with wit and humor, I began to like her more. If nothing else this book taught me not to accept someone at face value or by a single encounter; take time to get to know and understand another person, peel back a few layers, and you may be surprised by what you find.

I cannot say that the answer to the big mystery of the book was any surprise to me, however, but watching Mimi's memories return and the effect those revelations have on her and on her relationships with her sisters and her daughters made this a worthwhile read.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs
by Anna Quindlen
A good relaxing read (2/10/2014)
Anna Quindlen has written this novel with wit and humor--I particularly enjoyed the chapter titles--and has created a character I really like, especially given that she is my age and still active and attractive to a younger man. Rebecca still has some of those pesky confidence issues, but I guess age doesn't clear up everything, which is good because it keeps her and the rest of us striving and learning and changing. This book may not qualify as one of the great American novels, but it is worth the time and would lend itself to lively discussions with the book clubs.
Hunting Shadows: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
by Charles Todd
Mystery in a long-ago setting (12/28/2013)
This is the first Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery I have read, having read and enjoyed a few Bess Crawford mysteries by the same authors, which are set during WWI. As in Bess Crawford, here the authors have developed a likeable central character with many facets to his personality that also lend a bit of intrigue to the story, and have set him in England in a now popular time period (think Downton Abbey).

I have to admit, though, that the story seems to drag in sections. The continual shuffle of small village settings during the course of the investigation of the double murder may be part of the trouble as well as the multitude of minor characters that left me a little confused at times.

Nevertheless, I would not be averse to reading another of the 15 other titles in this series, and I would not hesitate to recommend this one to those who like mystery, England, and the post-WWI era.
Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
Two stories intertwined (11/29/2013)
This novel takes a look at an idea in American history that should have worked more consistently than it apparently did. During the late 1800s through the early 1900s orphans from the disadvantaged areas of the eastern US were transported by train to the Midwest to be adopted by families there. Some families were good to these children, some only wanted cheap labor. One of the two main characters of Orphan Train, Vivian, was one of these children, and we watch how her life turned out as she shares her story with the other main character, Molly, who has a similar background in the present, that of being shuttled from place to place. I was engaged as these two girls dealt with what life handed them and the people who were meant to care for them.

I might have given this a 5 rating, except that like so many contemporary writers Kline finds it necessary to resort to vulgar language in the modern sections of the story.
The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier
The Last Runaway (11/21/2013)
I am such a fan of Tracy Chevalier, starting with "Girl With a Pearl Earring," and this new novel does not disappoint. As I read I thought I knew who the last runaway would be, but not until the end did it become clear.

Once again Chevalier combines warm, clear writing with a well-researched subject, taking the reader into the time of slavery in the US along with Honor Bright, a young Quaker immigrant striving to overcome challenges to make a place for herself in her new country. The juxtaposition of Honor's Quaker ideals and the sometimes violent circumstances of the times is an inspired idea. As always, Chevalier has created characters I came to like and care about.
The Explanation for Everything
by Lauren Grodstein
Doesn't live up to its title (11/19/2013)
First of all, I recognized this as contemporary "literature" by the often and unnecessary use of vulgar language--it seems to be the norm now. That should have also been the clue that this novel would not turn out the way I would have liked.

Grodstein portrayed her Christian characters as unattractive and annoying, although as we got to know Melissa better her character became more likeable; maybe that was the author's attempt at balance? Although she did give a little attention to a reasonable explanation of intelligent design, the themes of inner change, healing, and learning to forgive were obviously Grodstein's focus. Ultimately some readers may be left feeling that nobody has any explanation for anything. This book might provide interesting topics for a book club discussion, but not for me.
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Very different style--keep an open mind (11/6/2013)
I cannot remember where I first heard about this book, but when I checked it out at the bookstore, I could not get past the first couple of pages. When I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie, which intrigued me, I decided to give it another chance, and I am glad I did. The author has a unique style, which I guess is not for everyone, but I liked it--could not wait to get back to it when I reluctantly had to eat or sleep.
The Dressmaker: A Novel
by Kate Alcott
Stays afloat (10/28/2013)
Before I read this historical novel, I was unaware of the hearings that were held in both the US and Great Britain in the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic. Kate Alcott has done a good job of combining the facts of the tragedy and the real people with the story--both fictional and real--of the dress designing business of the early 20th century. I enjoyed the read, and as I have done after reading other historical fiction, I am now reading the account written in 1955 by Walter Lord, A Night to Remember.

By the way, if Mrs. J.J. Brown was really present in all the places she has been written to have been, doing all the things she reportedly did, it is no wonder she has become a legend!
Songs of Willow Frost
by Jamie Ford
An engaging read (8/19/2013)
This is Jamie Ford’s second novel, and I liked it even better than his first, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” I can see that he will become a popular and accomplished author. He is gifted with style and story-telling ability.

Like the first novel, this one is set in the Seattle area in the past, this time during the early 1920s and the Depression, and again has Chinese-Americans as the main characters. The story centers on young William and his mother Liu Song, a singer who later becomes a famous actress known as Willow Frost. Ford presents us with an emotional roller-coaster ride as William deals with life in the orphanage and tries to match up his image of the movie star with the memories of his mother, and as Liu Song does whatever she feels she must to keep her son and to protect him from his father.

This book is definitely a good choice for book club discussions, and it is one that will stay with me for a long time.
Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery
by Spencer Quinn
A Dog Tale (6/27/2013)
Told from the dog's point of view, the book is funny and cleverly done. Knowing the premise beforehand, I was looking forward to reading this, but when I finished it, I felt like this is more of a guy's book (not that I am a reader of that which is known as "chick-lit" by any means). I also noticed that Chet the dog is nearly the only one not to drop the f-bomb. He was definitely my favorite character. I am not sure that all this doggie stuff won't become tiresome as the series progresses, but I don't think I will find out.
The Mouse-Proof Kitchen
by Saira Shah
Sometimes life gets a little messy (6/10/2013)
The phrase on the cover of this novel gives a good indication of what to expect inside. The central character is Anna, who likes order and planning, but when her daughter is born profoundly disabled she finds she has a lot to learn about being flexible, and more so after she and her partner move into a disabled home in a remote area in France.

The author gave me a lot to think about regarding love and relationships, particularly the kind of unconditional love it takes to face difficulties. She also has much to say about motherhood: are we the mothers we are because of the mothers we have, or in spite of or as a reaction to the mothers we have? Anna is forced to confront these issues, and the result is a compelling read.

There are some plot turns that I found puzzling, especially near the end, and I found some of the language unnecessary, but this is a good read and a great choice for book clubs.
Palisades Park
by Alan Brennert
A love letter to Palisades Park (5/28/2013)
Alan Brennert has taken a famous old place, which he admits is a cherished part of his childhood, and populated it with wonderful characters, both real and imagined, to highlight the history and the lifestyle of this New Jersey icon of the 1920s to 1971, and the people who were part of it. He has used a sort of “cut-and-paste” approach to develop his main characters, blending true stories and people so that the readers can watch the history through their eyes, as we also watch their relationships bend, break, and heal. It all makes very convincing reading and a way to learn about things that are rare today. (I now know more about high diving and carnival concessionaires than I thought possible.) There are many suspenseful scenes that kept me turning pages and almost holding my breath.

Aside from the apparently obligatory (to me annoying and unnecessary) language, this book is well-written and engaging. And for days I had that Freddy Cannon song going around in my head!
Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
Many layers to this story (5/14/2013)
Although heavy on the scientific details, which slowed down the story for me (OK, I admit, I was one of those liberal arts majors who skipped out on science classes), Barbara Kingsolver gives her readers much to think about seriously: How we tend to settle for what seems good in our lives at the loss of the best; how we let preconceived notions affect our understanding of people and facts; how some of us may know a lot about something but if we are unable to communicate that knowledge with others, our effectiveness can be lost; and there is a strong ecological message. The prose here is outstanding, as I always expect from this author, and the setting and the characters are real. There is much here for book club discussions.
The Cove: A Novel
by Ron Rash
Poetic prose (5/2/2013)
This is the first I have read by Ron Rash. His descriptions of the Appalachian countryside and his handling of his characters and their circumstances is so nearly exquisite that even the small details sing, and I became involved in the story from the first page. Romance, mystery, and the good and bad of humanity are all here. Great for a book club.

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