Reviews by BeckyH

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Eternal Life: A Novel
by Dara Horn
Eternal Life -- Not all it is cracked up to be (11/7/2017)
So – was this a good book? It asks so many questions and doesn’t give many answers. The clear take away is: Be careful what you ask for – you might get it!
What would it be like to never die? To always return as an eighteen year old when one “life” is ended? What if this was punishment for sin? How many times can a person reinvent themselves and adapt to changing values, science, language, culture, etc, etc. Those are some of the questions this novel tries to answer. Rachel, a complex character born in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, lives in the pages of this book for centuries as does her co-sinner and lover. A basic knowledge of Bible history and a smattering of knowledge of the Jewish faith will help the reader grasp the nuances of the tale. When we meet Rachel in this current age, Rachel is desperate to die – permanently.
The book is well written, the characters are strong and sympathetic, the situation – well – that is a problem. First, the God who loves people, and is the God Rachel knows, wouldn’t condemn a penitent to an eternal punishment. The premise the plot is based on is false. Second, the probability of one person finding another in ancient times, or even in modern times, is minimal. So Rachel and Elazar would be unlikely to keep meeting. However, the questions the book asks are important to ponder.
So – suspend belief and enjoy the writing and the characters. It is fiction after all!
4 of 5 stars
Cutting For Stone
by Abraham Verghese
interesting on many levels (10/2/2017)
Although long (perhaps a bit too long), this tale of brothers holds your attention. When an Italian nun, woefully unprepared for a mission in Africa, turns up at a medical mission in Ethiopia, she is welcomed because of her skill with patients and her ability to serve as nurse to a highly skilled but disconnected surgeon. After she gives birth unexpectedly to twin boys, the story switches to the boys, raised at the mission, and the “family” at the mission that raises them to adulthood.
World War II and the civil war that later divides Ethiopia into political factions serve as the background for this fascinating tale of medicine, natives, doctors, politicians and family. Secrets and intrigue abound and are satisfyingly brought to a conclusion as the two boys search for their birth father and fulfilling lives in the midst of great love and great upheaval.
5 of 5 stars
LaRose
by Louise Erdrich
disappointing (10/2/2017)
I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t sustain an interest in these characters or their story. Perhaps it was the jumps from past to present or present to indigenous tale or family to family, I just didn’t care.
The whole premise of giving away a child (and then taking him back - sort of) just didn’t seem believable. Emmaline never really seemed to be a “real” person, just a non-entity. LaRose was too good to be true. Nola was too submerged in grief to be interesting. Maggie was my favorite character and the most believable. I couldn’t understand why anyone would believe anything Romeo said.
I have read other books by Erdrich and liked them. This one was just a disappointment.
3 of 5 stars for good writing, poor story
Y is for Yesterday: A Kinsey Millhone Novel
by Sue Grafton
5 stars for longevity and deft plotting (8/31/2017)
Grafton reaches back into Kinsey’s past for this thriller so you know she will survive. Two concurrent plots make up the story line. Ned, a serial killer who wants Kinsey dead, is one, the other is the 10 year old death of a popular teen whose murder was solved – or was it? The book bounces from one plot to the other, so for me the momentum was lost. But I like Grafton’s heroine, so that was okay.
Grafton shows that although the end of the series and the end of alphabet approach, there are still stories and plots to tell. She has lost none of her story telling skill and the plots are still intriguing. So for Kinsey fans this one is win, win.
What will be the “Z” title????? And how will the series conclude? Are the only questions remaining.
5 of 5 stars for longevity and continuing deft plotting
The Hidden Light of Northern Fires
by Daren Wang
lots of potential (8/19/2017)
There are at least four stories in this one novel. Mary and Joe are the two characters that are the most clearly and realistically drawn. You may need a “cast of characters” to keep all the individuals, families and alliances straight. Several plots seem a bit far-fetched. Here are three instances.– Southern Dad admitting after years and on his death bed that two of his slaves are his children and disinheriting the white brother: a slave girl in a brothel for 4 years just walking away with no residual mental damage: a Northern soldier given the option of just walking away from his unit and commission by his commanding officer.
The story line is intriguing and holds your interest. The love story is well written and believable. The ending is a bit too “pat” and comes out of nowhere. The author shows great promise in his writing skill. I look forward to seeing his next tale. My copy is an advance readers’ edition and there are many grammatical and typo errors.
3 of 5 stars
Magpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz
Bring back Atticus! (8/5/2017)
This book within a book was frustrating at times. It was difficult to know who was the narrator and which “book” you were in. There is a difference of font, but it is a slight variation and easily missed. Susan is a bit too “talky.” I wanted her to just get on with it instead of rehashing all of the clues and suspects. I thought the Atticus book was by far the better plotted and told of the two tales. It just took forever to get to the finish line.
Andreas seemed to be thrown in just so he could be around to “finish the plot.” Susan didn’t miss him at all when he was gone for 6 weeks. The end, therefore, seemed too pat a finish.
The depiction of the English village and the various inhabitants was spot on. I didn’t agree with some of the characterizations of other detectives. I rather like Father Brown and don’t find Miss Marple brusque at all.
So….. Magpie Murders by Alan Conway is well written and tightly plotted. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is too long and too fussy. Bring back Conway and Pünd!
The King of Lies
by John Hart
King of Lies is excellent reading (8/2/2017)
A master of tightly plotted and well-crafted mysteries has written another winner. John Hart gives us a lawyer accused of his father’s murder, the DA that USED to be his friend, the wife he has never loved, the woman he does love, the cop who would love to see him hang, and, finally, a homeless man and a PI who may be his only friends. Add in a suicidal sister and her lover and the possibility of millions of dollars in inheritance and you have a first class mystery.
I thought I knew who the murderer was by the end of the second chapter. I was wrong. You will be too. But it doesn’t matter because the book is compelling reading.
5 of 5 stars
Redemption Road
by John Hart
WOW (7/30/2017)
WOW. John Hart really knows how to write an engrossing, heart pounding, well plotted mystery…… and he can do it with a minimum of sex, blood and vulgar language. A disgraced cop, a damaged cop, a terrified girl and a bereft child all come together in this tale of violence and corruption. Greed and power fuel the bad guys. You will have to read the book to discover what motivates the good guys. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Who, or what, is redeemed?
5 of 5 stars
Cruel Beautiful World
by Caroline Leavitt
Unforgettable (7/18/2017)
Lucy, 16 and naive, runs away with her High School teacher. Their life together in an isolated, and isolating, rural area is not what Lucy expected.
Lucy is portrayed sympathetically. The reader gets to know her intimately through her thoughts and actions. William, the teacher, is not so well known. His back story is presented in back flashes. His life with Lucy is seen only through her eyes. Lucy’s sister, a minor but very important character, never gives up searching for her sister.
The reader is constantly aware that “this will not end well”, but the actual ending is dramatic and terrifying. You will remember this book for a long time.
When the English Fall
by David Williams
A good dystopian book with heart (7/18/2017)
This not your usual “end of the world” book. It is a LOT better! An Amish community is well prepared when a solar storm knocks out all machinery worldwide. But the English (anyone not Amish) begin to run out of food and their money becomes worthless, civil society breaks down. The Amish are called to help. When they do, their closed community is affected as never before.
Written entirely from the viewpoint of Jacob, an Amish farmer who lives near several large cities, the book explores the challenges and fears of a community that wants to avoid “the English” and their worldly ways. Written with sympathy for both groups and displaying an intimate knowledge of the Amish, the book is a look into the future of a disaster. The one quibble with the book is a weak ending.
The Last Child
by John Hart
Compelling tale of murder and loss (7/18/2017)
A compelling read of loss, anger, fear, and murder. Johnny is just a child, but he is a child searching for his kidnapped twin sister and aided by a detective possessed of the same relentless need to find Alyssa. Then another young girl goes missing.
The characters are clearly drawn, especially the giant of a child man. The setting is detailed and atmospheric. There are red herrings in plenty, but the plot is tightly controlled and moves along at a ever increasing pace.
The Scribe of Siena
by Melodie Winawer
The Scribe of Siena (5/13/2017)
A 20th century neurosurgeon is transported to Siena, Italy, in 1346 AD where she becomes a scribe and falls in love. That is the short story of this vastly absorbing and intriguing novel.

The characters are fully developed, especially Beatrice, Gabriele, Clara and Accorsi. The plot is constantly offering a new twist even as the threat of the Bubonic Plague approaches. The flavor of medieval Italy is beguiling, however some of the more "indelicate" and primitive aspects of life are glossed over. The patterns of daily life in and around a bustling market and monastery are clearly set forth. The talents needed of a scribe in a society where most had little or no education are delineated.

I don't think I would make Beatrice's choices, but the book is a winner. 5 of 5 stars
Birds of a Feather: A Maisie Dobbs Mystery
by Jacqueline Winspear
Birds of a Feather (5/6/2017)
A tight plot and likeable characters people this mystery set in post World War I England. Masie is a detective and a psychologist and uses both to solve interesting and informative crimes. This one is no different. Hired to find a runaway daughter, Masie stumbles on a serial killer. Well written, with believable and clearly drawn characters with interesting backgrounds and a spot on sense of time and place, this series gets better as it continues. While the second in the series, there is no need to have read the first before beginning this one.
5 of 5 stars
The Dry
by Jane Harper
A good mystery (4/6/2017)
A tightly woven mystery that jumps back and forth from the present to the past to solve a long ago drowning and now a family murdered. Who lied and why?
Agent Aaron Falk is one of those accused of lying – then and now? Did he? Why did he come back and why does he stay where he is clearly not wanted.
The time jumps are clear by the use of an italic font for the past. The suspicions will keep you reading. Some of the characters are more fully developed than others. The plot is clear and the red herrings are plentiful. This is an enjoyable and clever book.
The Whistling Season
by Ivan Doig
A perfect picture of perfect hardship (4/6/2017)
The picture of hardships on a “dry” farm in 1909 Montana is clearly shown in this delightful story of motherless family trying to survive and the brother/sister couple who answer their ad for a housekeeper.

Homesteading, social life, family life, shenanigans, love, one room schools and the teachers who make them, and secrets, especially secrets, combine to make this a delightful, well-written tale that encompasses humor, fear, sacrifice and boyhood.
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin
Much better than the TV series (4/6/2017)
This book covers only Victoria’s early life and first few years of her long reign. Goodwin is a writer of historical fiction that borders on “women’s fiction.” She has a tendency to emphasis the more salacious and gossip laden events in the life of the person written about. That said the book is interesting and well researched. The life of a young girl manipulated by those around her and surrounded by great wealth and all its accouterments is discussed in great detail. Victoria is saved by the one scrupulous man in her life: Lord Melbourne, her first prime minister. Early Victorian English society, and the lives of the not-so-privileged, is covered well.
(The book gives much more detail than the TV series and gives a more accurate portrayal of Victorian England. )
4 of 5 stars
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman (2/2/2017)
To say Ove was set in his ways would be a gross understatement. But Ove’s wife loved him and he loved her. Life was good until tragedy struck – twice. Now Ove is alone and wishes to kill himself, but life intervenes in the guise of neighbors, friends, enemies and Ove himself.
Strong characters, a sure sense of time and place and a plot that meanders to a well thought out conclusion combine to make a tale well worth reading. Book groups will find plenty to talk about – lonely people, compromise of principle, suicide, anger, family, friendship, neighborliness, and Ove’s signature statement – “What is right is right” always – maybe.
5 of 5 stars
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
A lovely, spare novel (10/20/2016)
This is a wise book. The story of an old man who has lost all his worldly possessions in the Civil War and now reads the newspapers to folks who cannot read or have no access to papers and the 10-year-old returning Kiowa captive girl who has now lost two families in heart wrenching circumstances is also a tale of love, hope and the unbreakable human spirit. Told in spare prose, the story is itself spare, and that moves the reader more than more florid words could.
Doris, one of the supporting characters says of Johanna and other returned captives, “our first creation is a turning of the soul…toward the light. To go through another, tears all the making of the first… to bits…they are forever falling.” (pg.56) Good and evil live in this book. Good wins and we are gladdened.
A lovely book that I can highly recommend.
5 of 5 stars
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
The details of revolt and chaos (10/18/2016)
The lives of the diplomats, journalists, ordinary citizens and foreign expats who lived through 1917 in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Russia as it fell from Tsarist rule to peasant's revolt to anarchy to Leninism is told in exacting detail by Rappaport. Her clear and compelling writing makes this journey into disaster and terror real and immediate. She is able to carry the reader into the unease that slowly begins to develop into the "practically bloodless" and often times polite early revolution and that then descends into chaos and horror as beatings, death, starvation and cold blooded murder escalate.

As well written as it is researched, the book is surprisingly easy to read. The many (nearly 100) pages of notes will fascinate those of a more scholarly bent. I just enjoyed the clear writing and minute by minute detail. This isn't a book for everyone, but anyone with an interest in Russia or revolution or world history will appreciate this book.
The Underground Railroad: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Just not very good (10/12/2016)
My big problem with this book is: it doesn’t know what it is. Is it historical fiction? Yes, and no. Is it science fiction? Yes, and no. Is it alternative universe/history? Yes, and no. I had the uncomfortable feeling all while reading it that I was being played by the author. And that is not a comfortable -- or desirable -- feeling.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD tells the story of Cora, a plantation slave, and her desire for freedom. In this book, the underground railroad is just that – underground. Many interlocking tunnels with a variety of engines and baggage/passenger cars traverse this railroad. Apparently no one hears or notices these steam engines or the building of the tunnels. The slavery portion of the story is purely antebellum south and rings true. The rest of the story – not so much.

The first half of the book found me wondering why I kept reading. The last half, I just wanted to know how Cora fared in this awkward world. I can’t recommend this book.
2 of 5 stars
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