Reviews by Becky H

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The Immortal King Rao: A Novel
by Vauhini Vara
Ultimately Unsatisfying (4/6/2022)
I thought this was going to be an Indian dalit makes good in the tech world, creates a new world order that turns on him and he responds with more techie intrigue book.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a wide ranging but superficial family drama with a vast cast of characters that jumped from past to present to near past to middle past and back to present with jarring regularity. Oh, yes, there is some techie stuff thrown in but it is an obvious afterthought to the family drama.

The techie part was interesting. Can you turn your mind into a computer and then pass it on to another? What an intriguing idea. I wish more of the book revolved around this idea. I was disappointed.

There were too many characters, many of whom make only brief appearances before disappearing. The time jumps occurred without warning. The characters, even King and his daughter, Athena, were not fully fleshed out. The story of how a dalit family became land owners was interesting but was glossed over. Ultimately unsatisfying.
Band of Sisters: A Novel
by Lauren Willig
Society girls and daring do (3/29/2022)
Powerfully written and exhaustively researched, this lightly fictionalized account of the Smith College Relief Unit that assisted French villages decimated by Germany during WWI is an exciting tale of daring do. The Smith Unit, made up of recent graduates of Smith College, were young women mostly brought up to be wealthy, pampered society darlings. They were inspired by a visionary speech and formed a unit that soon found them living in filthy, bombed out buildings and working in dangerous, frontline areas of France.
Willig used the Smith College archives to find the families (and occasionally the women themselves) of the Unit. She had access to letters and diaries written by the women as they toiled in France. The book uses these intimate writings to flesh out the women and tell of their deeds as the women lived them. The women and villagers come alive on the page.
A wonderful book well worth your time.
5 of 5 stars
Black Widows: A Novel
by Cate Quinn
Three wives, three reasons to kill (3/15/2022)
Blake Nelson wanted to be left alone with his three wives in wilds of Utah. Unfortunately, someone wanted him dead. One of his wives? Perhaps. They all had reason to hate him. But did they have enough reason to kill? Rachel, first wife, obedient to a fault. Hated by the other wives who are forced to accede to her demands. Tina, the OTHER wife, beautiful and straight from rehab. NOT a dutiful Morman wife. Emily, the third wife, young, TOO young, terrified and Catholic. Which one killed him? The police are determined to find out. But rumors about another wife are flying about. Are there more suspects?

Each widow is deftly drawn. The forbidding landscape is a brooding presence. The mother-in-law is malevolent. A tense and exciting tale that will keep you turning pages well into the night.
The Paris Bookseller
by Kerri Maher
interesting, but a bit long (11/3/2021)
I was half way through this book before I realized it is essentially an accurate and lengthy biography of Sylvia Beach and her English language bookshop. Beach and her Paris shop, "Shakespeare and Company", hosted many of the writers and thinkers of the early half of the 20th century. She came to fame with her publication of James Joyce's Ulysses when no one else would publish it. In fact, America had declared it pornography and prevented it from being published or sold in the US. The novel also covers her relationship with Adrienne Monnier and Monnier's French language bookshop. Both women were sponsors of American, French and British writers.

The novel is well researched and well written but gets bogged down in the details. Joyce, Ulysses, Hemingway and Pound by themselves along with Beach could have made a fascinating tale that moved more quickly and kept the reader's interest from flagging. Still, the history alone makes the book worth reading. Personally, I could have done with a hundred fewer pages.
The Man Who Died Twice: Thursday Murder Club Mysteries #2
by Richard Osman
Lots of fun....and murder (11/3/2021)
This second outing for the Thursday Murder Club is just as much fun as the first. We learn a bit more about each of four members, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim as they meet Elizabeth’s ex-husband, also a former (or current?) member of MI5. The fun begins with 20 million in stolen (or not?) diamonds, continues with an attack on Ibrahim, a murder and several more murders. Will Elizabeth and company be able to outwit the Mafia, international thieves, hired killers, renegade officers and other assorted baddies while the laughs keep coming?
Osman keeps the group moving while continuing the gentle humor and advancing the intricate plot. He has a good feel for folks in their seventies who do not feel “over the hill”, but are active and engaged. His plot will keep you wondering until the last pages. Altogether a fun read that will keep you engaged.
5 0f 5 stars
by Thrity Umrigar
A tale of conflicts (9/1/2021)
India, a land of contradictions, is front and center in this novel of HONOR and how it can be used to hurt and even kill. Two women share the spotlight, Meena, dreadfully maimed by her brothers because she has brought dishonor to their family, and Smita, an American journalist who has her own reasons for avoiding India and all it has meant to her family and who is charged to write Meena's story.
This book was difficult to read and yet necessary to understanding the conflicting and conflicted women and men is this novel. The modern India of large cities and modern conveniences is balanced by the India of small villages where tribal leaders hold sway over men and women who live in primitive conditions. Muslim India is balanced by Hindu India, two "peaceful" faiths that bring about horrors beyond imagining when they come into conflict.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand the conflicts in India and by extension the conflicts in many parts of the world where men and women, Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, orthodox and liberal, come into conflict.
Well written and sympathetic, HONOR earns 5 of 5 stars.
At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes
by Carolyn Phillips
A delight for eyes and mouth (6/23/2021)
This utterly delightful book combines memoir with recipes. The memoir portion consists of a fascinating account of the author’s years in Taiwan sparked by mouthwatering descriptions of the food she eats as she learns Mandarin and falls in love with the country, the cuisines of China and J H Huang. Along the way we are introduced to her imperious future mother-in-law who is won over with a time consuming, challenging recipe for a treat that hadn’t been tasted in 40 years by her now blissful MIL.
Because I love to cook as much as I love to read and eat, I tried several of the recipes. Because I live in a city with a thriving Chinatown I was able to find most of the authentic ingredients. The recipes cover everything from beverages to main dishes to side dishes and condiments to even an odd “dessert” of “Coffee Gelee.” Simple strong coffee gelled with Knox unflavored gelatin and then coated with sweetened condensed milk became an odd favorite of my family. Not so simple but equally appreciated were Strange-Flavor Peanuts, Chilled Winter Melon and Bear Paw Doufu. The recipes were easy to follow once the ingredients were obtained.
I highly recommend this book both as memoir and as cookbook. 5 of 5 stars
Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Great ending (5/21/2021)
The sun is being eaten by an alien infestation. Mankind will cease to exist in 50 years. So… Project Hail Mary. Send a crew of scientists to a star that has beaten back the infestation and see how they did it. This being a seat of your pants thriller, things go wrong – quickly. Most of the crew dies. The one left can’t even remember his name, let alone what he is supposed to be doing. Then he meets another alien survivor.
Great story. Believable situations. An intriguing alien society. Good writing. Weir even makes the science understandable. Well worth your time if you like sci-fi, or thrillers, or just a good story with a great ending.
5 of 5 stars
Mrs. March: A Novel
by Virginia Feito
Not for everyone, but great (5/3/2021)
The feeling of portending disaster looms from the very first page, The disturbing adjectives and descriptions add to the malevolence. I hated this book and loved it at the same time. The writing is wonderful. The character of Mrs. March spirals out of control splendidly.
I don’t want to say much more because this book needs to be read without knowing even the basic plot. It is not quite a thriller, not quite a book of psychological horror. It is definitely a book that grabs you and then doesn’t let go until the shocking end. (Yes, I saw it coming, but didn’t want it to happen.)
Did I “enjoy” reading this book. No, unequivocally. But it was a great book. Would I recommend it to my book group, No! Would I recommend it to a very select group of friends that I know well. Yes!
5 of 5 stars
Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro
disappointing (4/28/2021)
Oh MY! I still am not quite sure what exactly was going on in this interesting Sci-fi (I think) novel that is ultimately unsatisfying. Yes, we know what happens to Klara, but we are still unsure exactly what happens with or to anyone else. Is josie happy? Is Rick happy? Is Mother happy? What happened to Melania Housekeeper? What happened to Rosa? What is “lifting? Why was Josie sick? Why was the Father “substituted” and what does that mean? So many questions. So few answers.
This was just a very weird book. It kept my interest but now that I have finished the book I just don’t care about any of the characters (because they weren’t real!).
3 0f 5 stars for a frustrating read
Flight of Dreams
by Ariel Lawhon
Flight of Dreams (3/17/2021)
Using the real people who lived and died on the dirigible Hindenburg, Lawhon tells a fascinating story of what might have occurred during the Hindenburg’s last flight. Impeccable research into the passengers and crew lend credibility to the characters who include an acrobat, a family from Mexico returning home, businessmen conducting business, a spy, a murderer, a stewardess who wants out of Germany, a navigator who loves her, and a 14-year-old cabin boy among others. Her characters sparkle with life.
Although we will never truly know why the Hindenburg exploded, Lawhon presents a credible answer as she relates how a dirigible stays aloft and what it is like to float 600 feet above the ocean in a luxury hotel.
In the author’s notes she gives the website ( that details all that is known about each of the passengers and crew. This is a worthwhile site for those interested in the before and after of each of them.
5 of 5 stars.
Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob
by Russell Shorto
Criminals in the family (2/25/2021)
Lots of individual vignettes are interesting in this memoir. Many individuals and their stories make for a challenging read trying to keep them all straight. Shorto has written a detailed narrative genealogy of his father’s family in an attempt to discover who murdered Pippy and to discover the “real” person who was his grandfather.

I found it difficult to maintain interest in the book as Shorto leapt from person to person and time frame to time frame. A listing of the numerous characters with their relationship to Shorto would have been helpful. I did learn a great deal about small time criminals and how the numbers racket and other “mob” games worked.
I do not think my book groups would be interested in discussing this book, but some folks would find it fascinating as an individual read.
The Last Tiara
by M.J. Rose
The Last Tiara (2/12/2021)
The Russian Revolution plays a large part in this tale of love, betrayal, family, jewels, secrets, privilege and glass ceilings. Like Russian novels, this one has twists, turns, blind corners and secrets galore. Sofia, a young art restorer in Tsarist Russia, is friends with the Tsar’s daughters, Olga and Tatiana. All three volunteer as nurses as WWI encroaches on St. Petersburg and their life of wealth and privilege. In hospital Sofia meets a young soldier who suffers from amnesia. That is where the joys and struggles and secrets begin only to later crop up in 1948 in New York City.
The main characters are, with one exception, clearly drawn and true to themselves throughout. Rose has done her homework and it shows in her descriptions of Tsarist Russia and later the New York architectural, fine jewelry and social scene. Her descriptions of Faberge and the gem studded works they created are spot on. Her depiction of women in the field of architecture shows the glass ceiling in stunning detail.
A lovely novel that book groups will enjoy discussing.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
by Marie Benedict
I hate timeline jumps (2/7/2021)
Agatha Christie, renowned writer of mysteries, disappeared for 11 days in 1926. Although a country wide search was made, no one was able to find her until she turned up on day eleven claiming amnesia. What REALLY happened – no one knows. Marie Benedict makes an interesting and entirely fictional novel of the mystery. The result is a good yarn that Agatha herself would approve.
My complaint - and it is a huge one – is the two different, and interwoven, timelines. I would just get involved in one timeline and the other would pop up with a different narrator and jump back or forward in time. When I finished the book, I knew why the author chose this conceit. However, there have been entirely too many novels recently with the same “jump around” timeline. It is annoying. Please stop.
The characters are well developed. The plot is clever. The inclusion of true events lends credence to the tale. But still…. Those annoying time leaps.
Book groups will have a field day trying to suss out the real story in their discussion.
The Vanishing Half: A Novel
by Brit Bennett
An Unsettling book (1/27/2021)
Unsettling is the only word I can use to describe this book. Can a person vanish? To themselves? To their family? Can men vanish from society? the world? Can a person vanish and still be physically present? Can a town vanish? Can a person make themselves vanish – even to their own self? What are the repercussions to vanishing? Can a vanished person reappear? And the last question – not are Blacks racist, but what form does it take?
At first, I thought this book was vaguely boring, then a third of the way in, I found it compelling. When I read the last page, I was disappointed. Few of my questions had been answered. And those answers simply produced other questions.
Books groups will either love or hate this book, but a lively discussion will certainly result. My one complaint is the book doesn’t have a conclusion; it just ends.
The Girl with the Louding Voice
by Abi Daré
You should read this book (1/12/2021)
This was a wonderful book – after I got past the dialect the main character and narrator speaks. Adunni, the young Nigerian girl with the “louding” voice, is fourteen as the novel begins. From an extremely poor family, she is sold into marriage with an older man who stops her schooling although she is a good student with the promise of a scholarship to continue her education. The rest of the books deals with the vassitudes of her life.
The dialect improves as the novel proceeds and by the end I no longer noticed the dialect. In fact, the use of dialect enhanced the impact of Adunni’s story. Adunni’s story, unfortunately, is not unusual in Nigeria or many parts of the world.
AN excellent read that would be a great choice for a mother/daughter book group or a group made up of mostly educators.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
by Garrett M. Graff
A searing account of 9/11 (1/2/2021)
Subtitled "An Oral History Of 9/11", this is a collection of memories and statements that portray in timeline fashion what happened in the US on September 11, 2001. This was difficult to read. I could only read a bit before I had to put it down. Perhaps those who did not live through that day will have a different reaction. It brought back all the confusion and horror of that day for me.

Photographs of the destruction and incidents of the day are included. There is a lengthy section of notes, acknowledgements and indexes.
We Are Not from Here
by Jenny Torres Sanchez
A terrifying escape to the US (1/2/2021)
Three young teenagers are forced to flee their Guatemala home when they are targeted by the local drug dealer. They travel through Mexico to the United States where they hope to find safety with relatives.

This novel is a searing look at the hardships and dangers of all those who travel illegally from Central America to reach the “Promised Land” and relative safety of the US. Honest and heart wrenching. If you refused – for whatever reason – to read AMERICAN DIRT, this book gives the same point of view from the pen of a Latinx writer.
The Thursday Murder Club
by Richard Osman
A delightful cozy (1/2/2021)
A foursome of retired folk in a senior home get together to take a look at unsolved crimes. Much to their surprise they find themselves embroiled in a real present-day murder.

A delightful cozy with fully realized characters -- and they are characters! Deftly plotted with sensitivity to older citizens and great humor, this may be the start of a series starring the Murder Club members.

A cleverly plotted romp.
5 of 5 stars
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline
Transported! (11/9/2020)
Evangeline, a young governess, is arrested on a false charge and “transported” to Australia. Her lover does not rescue her and she bears his child on the ship.
In the 1840’s Britain sent thousands of “undesirables” to exile in Australia. Baker’s book tells the story of jailing and transport from the viewpoint of an educated young woman fallen on hard times and her child. Even after transport, the exiles were still jailed and then “rented out” during the day in what amounted to slave labor until their sentences were served. The hardships of jail life and transport are set forth in detail. A parallel story is the true experience of Mathinah, a young Aboriginal woman taken from her ancestral home and “adopted” by the British governor and his wife. Hers is a sad tale sympathetically told by Baker.
This finely detailed and riveting book tells a little known side of British “transport,” a cost saving solution that also sent thousands of criminals to the present day state of Georgia. Beautifully written and well researched, this book deserves your time.

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